The Medical Students’ Society (MSS) will be on strike beginning March 30 to participate in the demonstration organized by Federation médicale étudiante du Québec (FMEQ) against the proposed Bill 20. A motion to that effect passed at the annual MSS General Assembly (GA) on March 17, with 89 votes for, 19 against, and 8 abstentions.
Medicine students at Université de Sherbrooke passed a similar motion the same day, and those at Université de Montréal did so on March 10. Those at Université Laval are expected to move a strike motion next week, which, if passed, would mean that all four Quebec universities with medicine programs will have joined the mobilization against Bill 20.
The much-criticized Bill 20 effectively establishes a quota for the number of patients that a physician must take on, with the government requiring that family doctors follow at least 1,000 patients. As per section 19 of the bill, physicians failing to meet their quotas will face a cut in their salary of up to 30 per cent.
On February 23, MSS was mandated by referendum to take a stance against Bill 20 in its current form and to maintain that stance should the bill become law.
Speaking to The Daily in an interview, FMEQ Political Affairs Delegate Alexis Rompré-Brodeur said that the bill would force physicians to look for ways to meet their quotas more easily. “Vulnerable populations like psychiatric patients, older patients, diabetic patients that do take a lot more time when you take them on […] will be a bit set aside,” he said.
At the GA, some members voiced concerns regarding the efficiency of a one-day strike in order to affect government policy.
“I have a couple of questions about what the goal of FMEQ is in doing this strike. Is the goal to get media awareness? Is the goal to get public support? Is the goal to actually change the government and the government’s perception?” asked medical student Annick Gauthier.
Another student argued that MSS could oppose Bill 20 without going on a strike.
“What really frustrates me sitting here today is [that] McGill is always the one who backs down. We never support our confrères. Every time we have consensus in the province, McGill clearly sends a message in not supporting the political action that is taking [place] on a provincial level.”
“We’re in a province that loves to strike,” he said. “We don’t want to harm our patients. We could be totally against it – we have voted against this bill – [and] not going for a strike doesn’t mean that we’re not against it.”
Fourth-year medicine (Med-4) student Olivier Gagné disagreed, speaking to the importance of standing in solidarity with the rest of the province.
“What really frustrates me sitting here today is [that] McGill is always the one who backs down. We never support our confrères. Every time we have consensus in the province, McGill clearly sends a message in not supporting the political action that is taking [place] on a provincial level,” Gagné said.
While the text of the motion makes no mention of the growing anti-austerity mobilization in the province, some attendees noted that Bill 20 is in fact deeply related to the Liberal government’s austerity policies.
“[Bill 20] denies the social and human role of the healer. It considers medicine as purely mechanic, but we don’t treat machines,” said first-year medicine (Med-1) student Anne-Sara Briand. “The government has to stop burying its head in the sand. […]There will be less workers, less time for the patients, and hence, more distress. But the health of our patients will be harmed by many more cuts. The government’s austerity will have consequences on the health of the society.”
In an interview with The Daily, Medicine Senator David Benrimoh echoed Briand’s concerns.
“I’ve had several patients myself, [with whom], if I didn’t have the half an hour or forty-five minutes to spend with them and to talk to them about […] the terrible experiences they’ve gone through, I don’t think it would have been able to have the therapeutic effect that I was able to have,” said Benrimoh.
Benrimoh continued, “[Bill 20] asks us to do more, without giving us any more resources. It doesn’t give us more nurses, which we need. […] It doesn’t give us more operating rooms, it doesn’t give us any more resources into our healthcare system, but it asks us to handle a higher volume – and that means that the quality of care is not assured. It also means that it’s another way the government is saying ‘do more with less’ – which is austerity.”