The relationship between government and health policy is often far more complex, layered and unpredictable than it appears. While it is undeniable that one influences another through direct funding, grants, and other public ventures, it is forgotten that a state is like a living body with individual breathing, functioning parts. A malady in one section, however slight and however seemingly trivial, may endanger the whole being. All within it, the kings and peasants, the priests and sinners, the government officials and lowly laborers, may become sick and the entire structure of civilization may collapse in a coughing fit of discontent.
This philosophy rings especially true today with the Parti Québécois’s recent proposal of the Charter of Values. Unlike the multicultural zeitgeist that is central to a Canadian identity, the Parti Québécois have focused their separatist mantra in a legislation that intends to maintain “religious neutrality by banning all conspicuous religious symbols.”
Whether or not the policy presented by the Parti Québécois is good or bad in a political context is irrelevant. Too many unsolvable questions – would Quebec have to ban the Fleur-de-lis, how would they account for the ban of Christmas trees and other overt Catholic paraphernalia if at all, what of the rich Christian history that is ingrained in Quebec culture: is this to be forgotten all the same – reduce the discussion into a Penrose staircase paradox. With each unanswerable question, the problems only get bigger and bigger and the policy’s significance gets smaller and smaller until it is nothing short of nonsense.
There is no doubt that the helter-skelter policy is just that – pure balderdash at its worst. Besides its logistical conundrums, lingering questions of xenophobia and racism ring throughout the Charter itself. Alienation of certain religious practices seems inevitable, not to mention the slew of gender concerns that come to the foreground where women would not be able to wear hijabs, burkas, niqabs and the like in governmental offices.
While this may have wide ranging ramifications for Quebec’s image and more truthfully Canadian identity as a whole, less has been postulated about the healthcare implications. Forgetting about obvious indefensible arguments revolving around the unconstitutional aspects of the Charter, Quebec’s proposed legislation will make it difficult to attract and retain foreigners and immigrants who subscribe to some religious tradition. Rather than participate in healthy interplay between religion and work, the Charter coerces a decision between the two. And with a large portion of the medical staff in Quebec belonging to some faith system, this dichotomy between pseudo-professionalism and personal beliefs may cause them to migrate elsewhere in the nation where their freedom of expression is not infringed upon. Said simply, Quebec’s loss may become another province’s gain.
A hospital in Toronto, Lakeridge Health, has seized upon some of this discomfort in Quebec. Using the tagline “We don’t care what’s on your head / We care what’s in it”, the hospital has extended an open environment where, Kevin Empey, president and CEO of Lakeridge Health, says “… there is a really good organization if you want to make a change.”
While it is unclear whether people will capitalize on Lakeridge’s offer or if other hospitals beyond Quebec will follow suit if the Charter of Values is passed, it is undeniable that in a climate where health professionals are in short supply, the Charter of Values may be a healthcare kamikaze. Workers may look for jobs elsewhere. Hospitals may become even more understaffed than they already are. Wait times may increase. Sicknesses may amount. And in a linked fashion, healthcare may worsen in Quebec as a whole.
Yet the issue is far more than economic: the legislation creates a rift in Canadian identity and dogma central in health policy. Though the apparent logic of the Charter is to make all feel equal in public offices, it does nothing of the sort. It promotes an ‘other’ – an ideal, homogenized state – and with it, the exclusion of ‘another.’ To do so is to deny that which is inherently Canadian – the unique interaction between various cultures and ethnicities.
Furthermore, hospitals mirror this Canadian principle of inclusion. Regardless of race, culture and ethnicity, healthcare is a pursuit meant to transcend political thought and ideology. All are equally entitled to care. It is a practice by humans for humans to heal humans, and no political interest is meant to damage that relation.
The Charter of Values undermines this healthcare philosophy fundamentally. What Parti Québécois does not seem to understand is that if they lose their physicians in some secular pursuit, even if it may be somewhat defensible in a legislative context, their hospitals will not be the only institutions to suffer. All will, not excluding the state itself. A policy that is arguably meant to help will do nothing of the sort. Even Quebecois politicians will be affected. I only hope that when they are, and when they are caught up in the arduous, seemingly infinite wait time clogging up their hospitals, that they will have enough time to reconsider their position.
By Kacper Niburski
The featured picture was taken from the recent Lakeridge Health’s Campaign
1. Chai C. We don’t care what’s on your head: Ontario hospital recruits Quebec health workers. Global News. 2013 Sept 12.
2. Derfel A. Quebec doctors already being recruited. The Gazette. 2013 Sept 13.
3. Kondro W. Health week: Will Quebec’s secular charter affect healthcare. iPolitics. 2013 Sept 13.
4. Blathford A, and Ouellet M. Fears PQ plan to ban religious symbols could further speed up Quebec’s population bleed. Canadian Press. 2013 Aug 22.