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Tuesday October 17 2017

The Charter of Values is Not so Valuable: A Health Policy Perspective

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

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References:

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.

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3 comments
  1. I definitely agree that there are a lot of problems with this charter, and it seems almost to be doing the opposite of what it’s set out to do (i.e., promoting "gender equality"). But what if we look at it from Quebec’s point of view? They’ve been getting the short end of the stick throughout Canada’s history, and have had to forge their own traditions, customs, language, politics, economy, etc., in an attempt to overcome the inequality they were experiencing as a province. Now, perhaps in an attempt to protect their equality they are merely taking it to an extreme, as we see in many cases throughout history. I think we should definitely explore the PQ’s point of view as well, not necessarily so we might agree with it, but so we can broaden our perspective of the issue. After all, don’t you think the PQ would have foreseen a potential drain the public sector by implementing the anti-religion rules – I mean, they’re smart people. Perhaps there is an even stronger motivating force behind this Charter that we can’t quite grasp without having gone through their experiences.

    1. Indeed, the other side of this issue has not been well explored by the media and general public. As mentioned in this article, the Charter was proposed to encourage impartiality and neutrality in the public service sector, in order to be more inclusive to the population and the people that these services serve. I can partially see where they are coming from.

      Let’s consider the scenario where a patient is seen by a doctor who publicly identifies with a certain religion. It could definitely be possible that the patient-doctor interaction may be negatively affected if the patient knows their moral values clearly differ from the religion and set of moral values that their doctor identifies with. For example, it may impact the patient’s willingness to disclose relevant lifestyle information and choices that would be beneficial to their doctor’s ability to make suitable clinical decisions for them (e.g. choices for abortion, homosexuality, etc.)

      It all comes down to what the people perceive as the ideal way to express "unbiased neutrality" in professional atmospheres. What speaks louder, an individual’s attitude or their physical appearance? Is it enough for professionals to interact with clients in an unbiased and accepting manner – or is it necessary to take this to the next level and remove the factor of religious symbols and clothing?

  2. Of course, there are instances where religious expression could detrimental in the public sphere, especially in a hospital; this is not being argued. A doctor wearing a burka may have more difficulty in performing sterile operations than someone else without it. A Jehovah Witness surgeon may refuse a lifesaving blood transfusion and cause unneeded complications in a patient’s recovery. Yet such a careful scrutiny of certain religious ideologies contrasted against their practical concerns is not the policy’s intent. Instead the Charter of Values is a catchall, indiscriminate ban of all religious symbolism, regardless of utility or lack thereof in public spheres.

    Quebec is not Canada, though it is part of it, and considering the PQ is separatist at its core, it makes sense that they are claiming a secularist agenda in an otherwise unsecular nation (at least insofar as the overlay between religion and personal life is concerned). So while we can consider PQ’s point of view, and we’ll find the systemic hope of rejuvenation of what PQ describes as secular aspirations, this is not what is indeed being put forward. It seems to me a short-sighted political ploy that riles up constituents in Quebec and faces the matter of Quebe’cs separation from Canada even more so (not that I think it’ll happen).

    This though is entirely a political perspective, and it bears mentioning that the health policy is important to look at as I feel I did in the article. At the moment, I feel PQ is not doing so, regardless of whatever impetus is making them draft up the policy in the first place.

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The Meducator is McMaster University’s undergraduate Health Sciences Journal. It publishes pieces that critically address current issues with a high degree of scientific rigor, but in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.

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