After self-congratulations for months for managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Avenir Québec party of Quebec’s Governing Union is on the defensive following an explosive report on its handling of long-term care. due in spring 2020.
Vulnerable residents of the province’s underfund long-term care homes are largely an afterthought in the government’s pandemic preparedness plan, Quebec Inspector Marie Rinfret concludes in the published report. on Tuesday.
She said 4,000 residents died between February and June 2020 – nearly 70% of all COVID-19 deaths in Quebec in the first wave.
Rinfret’s report and the coroner’s ongoing investigation into long-term care deaths have been the focus of heated exchanges this week in the legislature. They also changed the opposition’s request for a public inquiry into the government’s pandemic response.
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Daniel Béland, a professor of political science at McGill University, said Prime Minister François Legault and his government are scoring high in the polls this election year, but opposition parties, which already have to struggling to gain traction, may have found something to gain.
“Right now, those are difficult moments for the Québec Avenir Alliance,” said Béland, director of the McGill Institute for Canadian Studies. “They want to avoid a larger investigation into this.”
Legault has so far refused to open a public investigation into his government’s pandemic response, and he says investigations conducted by other independent officials are sufficient to reveal what happened. in spring 2020.
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However, Béland said he was unsure whether the catastrophic first wave at long-term care homes would be a scandal big enough to bring down Legault’s government when the Quebecers head to the polls in the fall. come or not.
“I don’t know if this will be enough for the opposition to make a big inroads as Francois Legault’s popularity has been quite sustained despite all the problems during the first wave of the pandemic,” he noted.
“These problems are not something we just discovered; We have been talking about this for a long time. ”
Quebec has reported more than 11,566 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but the province has done better since the first wave. Beland said it’s still unclear whether COVID-19 will show up to voters. Language issues, immigration and labor shortages could replace the pandemic as election themes, he added.
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“I don’t think it’s really enough to change the trajectory so far, but it’s certainly (right now) a source of headaches for the prime minister.”
But the storm clouds around Legault’s government won’t pass anytime soon. Two more reports are expected on the first wave – one from the provincial health and welfare commissioner and the other from coroner Gehane Kame.
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On Wednesday, Higher Education Secretary Danielle McCann, who was reshuffled as Health Secretary in June 2020, defended her handling of the pandemic. She asserted that the entire health network had been notified to prepare in January 2020 for the looming health crisis, but the ombudsman’s report said care homes had been neglected.
McCann released a three-page letter dated January 28, 2020, urging health authorities to prepare. However, the document does not specifically address long-term care homes. The Rinfret report said that while officials expressed concern, no action was taken until mid-March and the measures were only introduced in mid-April.
“I’m extremely sensitive to what happened,” McCann told reporters on Wednesday. “As Minister of Health at the time, I felt so much for the families, and I will live with that for the rest of my life.”
In recent months, Legault and his ministers have publicly congratulated themselves on Quebe Cancer’s high vaccination rates and relatively low transmission of COVID-19 in the province. On Tuesday, Legault bragged about how much better Quebec has done compared to the United States and Europe. “Well, you saw it. In some countries in Europe it is very worrying,” he said.
“When we look closer to home, in the United States, if I just count hospitalizations per million residents, they have six times more hospitalizations than we do in Quebec.”
But that hasn’t stopped the opposition from attacking the government this week. Opposition leader Dominique Anglade told reporters on Wednesday that the government lied about its COVID-19 preparedness plans.
“The government lied to the people of Quebe Cancer,” she said. “It lied when it said there were instructions sent out when there weren’t.”
In response to more heated questions from the opposition during question time, Legault said his government did the best it could with the information it had. Many other parts of the world, he said, do not anticipate the problems that will arise with long-term care.
“We have no indication before March (2020) that there will be such a tragedy in CHSLDs,” said Legault, using the Quebec term for long-term care homes. He insisted the government’s focus at the time was on protecting hospitals and procuring ventilators.
“This is the information we have,” he said. “I did my best with the information I had.”
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