The secret to a strong health and social service system

The secret to a strong health and social service system

The discontent with the current state of the health and social service system is palpable. Given all the broken promises to Quebecers – to put an end to waiting lists and give everyone access to a family doctor – it’s little wonder government pledges to fix the problems with the health-care system are greeted with suspicion. In contrast to the threadbare solutions contained in the Legault government’s health-care reform plan (cost control, phony decentralization, expanding the role of the private sector, etc.), the APTS has a distinctly different vision for the health care and social service system. Our vision is outlined in our political platform and we’ll be promoting it with a campaign under the theme “A strong union for a strong public system.” It lays out the kind of health-care system Quebecers deserve and the principles that should guide any government that’s serious about making it better.

A strong system is first and foremost a system on a human scale where everyone’s voice counts.

The APTS has no doubt it is the workers who actually know what’s happening on the ground and are really in touch with the needs of Quebecers. It stands to reason that employees should be the leading force in any movement for real change. Yet they have long been reduced to the role of mere executors, while citizens and service users are excluded from the debates. It is important for political decision-makers to understand that an overly centralized system will not be able to take advantage of the essential contributions of the people who work in the system or of those who use it. We need to make the government aware of what they are dealing with. One of our priorities is therefore to revitalize citizen engagement with the system, in addition to increasing employee involvement.

A strong system is also a system that can make substantial improvements in the working conditions of its employees

The days are over when government could rely solely on employees’ spirit of dedication to retain and attract the kind of people who can meet the needs of service users. Given the current labour shortage, the health and social service system cannot be rebuilt if the Québec government fails to address the compensation gaps that place public-sector employees at a disadvantage compared to their peers in the private sector.

A strong system is one that doesn’t get sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget.

To restore the system’s stability, we need budgets that are protected from a possible return to austerity and can be adjusted based on people’s needs, rather than the government’s obligation to produce financial statements. The government may well crow about all the money being invested in health and social services, but it’s just not enough to surmount the challenges confronting us.

A strong system is also one that innovates – not by aping the way a private business operates, but by keeping pace with changes in our society.

For example, although mental health issues were sidelined when the health and social service system was established 50 years ago, we now need to provide mental health services as part of the public system. You can think about dental care the same way: it’s basically a private sector monopoly – as if your teeth were somehow a less important part of your body than an arm or a leg.

Finally, a strong system is a free and accessible public system.

At a time when growing reliance on the private sector is giving rise to a two-tier health and social service system in Québec, we need to demand that everyone be able to obtain the care and services they need in a timely way. This goes to the very heart of the right to health – both physical and psychological – as a human right.


To create a strong health and social service system, we need a strong union – such as the APTS, which will never hesitate to speak up to defend its members and advocate for the public system. Our APTS political campaign will be officially launched next week and this article is only the first in a series intended to offer you food for thought and provide you with the tools to take action on issues that matter to you. So stay tuned, and in the meantime, have a first or second look at the commitments made by the APTS in its political platform.