Anglophone Canadians might have a harder time accessing healthcare in Quebec, should the provincial government’s amendments to Bill 15 pass. 

Bill 15 is healthcare reform legislation, spanning over 300 pages with more than 1,110 clauses, designed to modify approximately 36 laws and overhaul Quebec’s healthcare system.

Health Minister Christian Dubé’s proposal enables the provincial government’s new health agency, Santé Québec, to withdraw the right of healthcare institutions to offer services in English if the English-speaking population in their area falls below 50%. Opponents of the amendment argue that it threatens Canada’s bilingualism.

Liberal health and social services critic André Fortin raised issues at the legislature committee studying Bill 15. 

“The problem with (the amendment) is a government so inclined to take away English services could do it unilaterally,” he said. 

Approximately 50 health and social service institutions throughout Quebec are eligible to provide services in languages other than French, as permitted by the Charter of the French Language, based on demographic requirements. 

The province wants to give Santé Québec the ability to revoke the right to offer such services in areas where the minority communities have shrunk below 50%.

Under the proposed amendment to Bill 15 introduced by Dubé, the board of directors of Santé Québec has the authority to consider revoking a facility’s recognition after engaging with the impacted minority communities. Additionally, they would consult with the Office québécois de la langue française, which assesses demographic changes to formulate language-related recommendations.

Santé Québec would have the power to decide when and where to revoke bilingual status. 

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) and other representatives of the English-speaking community see this last-minute move as a direct threat to their access to health and social services in English.

“We are shocked that Health Minister Christian Dubé would try to drop an amendment like this into Bill 15 at the last moment, days before the government is about to invoke closure to ram this bill through the Nation Assembly,” wrote Eva Ludvig, President of the QCGN, in a statement on Friday.

Dubé introduced the amendment, known as Article 111.1, on Tuesday evening. 

Fortin and other opposition members questioned the amendment’s implications during the legislature committee’s clause-by-clause study of Bill 15.

Fortin pressed for details on how the 50% threshold for service in a language other than French would be determined and criticized the lack of a mechanism for healthcare institutions to veto such decisions.

He drew parallels between this amendment and a comparable change in Bill 96. According to that language law, municipalities experiencing a decline in their minority populations were set to lose their bilingual designation. Nonetheless, the government permitted these cities and towns to maintain their status, provided their councils passed a resolution in favour of it. 

In a show of respect for their minority residents, almost all municipalities opted to preserve their bilingual status.

Health Minister Dubé, unable to answer Fortin’s questions, suggested suspending the debate on the amendment. 

The committee examining the bill has adopted 620 of the 1,180 articles, including 402 amendments. 

On Thursday, health critics from the Liberal, Québec solidaire, and Parti Québécois joined forces with several health and social service network representatives to urge the government to abandon its plan to fast-track the bill. They argued that the bill’s numerous amendments are evidence of its shortcomings and unpreparedness for becoming law.

“Bill 15 will not mean more workers in the system; it will not mean more care,” said Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, Québec solidaire MP. 

Fortin said that each day reveals more mistakes in the bill, so taking more time to study it would make sense. 

“You tell me what the rush is,” he said. 

Parti Québecois MP Joël Arseneau claimed that this is the CAQ method.

“We’ve never seen such a huge piece of legislation being changed so much,” he said.