Earlier this week, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé tabled a new bill proposing an end to the public health state of emergency named “Bill 28, An Act to terminate the public health emergency.”
However, when taking a closer look at the bill, it seems to propose everything but lifting the emergency, all while seeking to let the CAQ government maintain most of its emergency powers until the end of the year.
The bill received immediate backlash and criticism from opposition parties, with Dominique Anglade, leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec, saying it was “deliberately vague” and that there was “an element of dishonesty in this bill, because it aims to prolong the state of emergency, instead of lifting the state of emergency.”
Conservative Party of Quebec leader Éric Duhaime held a press conference with Claire Samson, the party's only sitting MNA at the National Assembly, on Wednesday afternoon, detailing their proposal for a way out of the emergency, laying out a five-point plan for a definitive end to it.
Samson reminded that she had already proposed to amend the Public Health Act with her Bill 898, but that “they [the CAQ] were not interested, since it did not give them as much abusive powers” as Dubé’s Bill 28.
The state of emergency has given the government exceptional powers, including the possibility to award contracts without calls for tenders as well as bypassing collective agreements in the health network.
According to a report by Le Journal de Montréal, the CAQ government has awarded $13B worth of these untendered contracts between March 2020 and March 2022 alone.
To explain the high use of these contracts since the beginning of the current year, Quebec’s government indicated that they have been useful because of the fifth wave, notably for the purchase of N95s for health network personnel.
It is interesting to point out that Health Minister Dubé and Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon are currently tied up in an ongoing legal battle between Quebec City’s health centre (CHU de Québec) and Busrel Inc., a company that has received over $150M in untendered contracts during the pandemic for personal protective equipment (PPE), according to a Radio-Canada report.
On Thursday morning, Christian Dubé held another press conference to clarify the bill.
During that conference, he laid out the positive points within it and rhetorically asked what the opposition parties had against it, once again trying to put the blame on them for the delays in revoking the health emergency.
What haven’t been thoroughly clarified are sections 4 and 6 of the bill, which read as follows:
4. The Minister may order any person, government department or body to communicate or give to the Minister immediate access to any document or information held that is necessary for protecting the health of the population in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, even personal or confidential information or a confidential document.
6. Anyone who
(1) contravenes a measure that has continued to apply or was amended under section 2 or 3,
(2) refuses to communicate a document or information the Minister is entitled to require under section 4 or to give the Minister access to such a document or information, or communicates a document or information they must send to the Minister that is false or misleading or conceals or destroys such a document or such information,
(3) by an act or omission, helps a person to commit an offence under subparagraph 1 or 2, or
(4) by encouragement, advice or consent or by an authorization or an order, induces a person to commit an offence under subparagraph 1 or 2, commits an offence and is liable to a fine of $1,000 to $6,000. The fines are doubled for a subsequent offence.
With Quebec’s new Ministry of Cybersecurity and Digital Transformation, led by Éric Caire, and the intent of digitizing Quebec and issuing digital IDs for all citizens in the near future, a lot of questions remain to be answered when it comes to private, confidential information — especially with Pierre Fitzgibbon’s August 2020 statement on how Quebec should give away its citizens’ medical information to pharmaceutical companies, claiming it would further incite them to settle in the province.