Open letter from Fabre MNA raises questions about Marguerite Blais

CAQ government’s Senior Citizens’ Minister should be held to account, says Monique Sauvé

In an open letter commenting on the impact of Covid-19 in Quebec’s CHSLDs, Fabre Liberal MNA Monique Sauvé raises questions about the testimony given last week by Quebec Minister for Senior Citizens Marguerite Blais during the ongoing inquiry into the high Covid fatality rate in the CHSLD network.

“It should not be forgotten that Quebec bears one of the worst records on the planet for deaths of vulnerable seniors,” wrote Sauvé, who is the Quebec Liberal Party’s official spokesperson for senior citizens’ issues. 

Answers needed, she says 

“Let’s also recall that Quebec as a whole deserves to have answers on what really happened between January and mid-March 2020, from the moment when we knew that seniors in CHSLDs would be the most vulnerable faced with Covid, until the time when the first directive was sent to CHSLDs. 

CAQ Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais bets her head
Quebec Senior Citizens Minister Marguerite Blais.

“Let’s remember that the Minister Responsible for Seniors, who is also responsible for CHSLDs, is the only elected official, besides the Premier, who was from the beginning part of the crisis team and who is still in that position today,” Sauvé added. 

On June 17 2020, the province’s chief coroner ordered a public inquest into the circumstances prevailing just before the first wave of the Covid pandemic struck within Quebec’s network of CHSLDs.  

When did Blais know? 

Sauvé said that following many weeks of audiences by Coroner Géhane Kamel, the fundamental question that remains unanswered is, “What happened in January, when they knew, until mid-March, when action finally started to be taken?” She said that Minister Blais, a key witness in the inquiry, should be furnishing answers. 

“Since the start of the first wave, we asked many questions to the minister,” Sauvé continued. “Few answers. What happened between January 2020 and mid-March in preparation for Covid in the CHSLDs? What was her role?” 

She said that on Feb. 10, 2020, while the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) had already sounded the alarm on the risks from Covid to senior citizens, Blais was completing a tour of Quebec’s CHSLDs. “What did she notice? What recommendations did she make? We have already asked her for reports on these visits. She hasn’t any. Nothing in writing.” 

Why was she absent? 

As well, Sauvé asked why the Minister of Senior Citizens was absent on March 8, 2020 when a key meeting was held between the Premier, the ex-minister of health and Dr. Horacio Arruda. “We don’t know. Did she intervene in the decision to transfer seniors from hospitals into the CHSLDs for which she was responsible? Her answer: It was agreed-upon decisions. 

‘This is something that is going to diminish our political clout,’ says Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal president
Fabre MNA Monique Sauvé.

“How is it that she was unable to prevent the prohibition of access by caregivers to their loved ones, who died in suffering and isolation? She is the minister responsible for caregivers. So why this decision? Her answer: It was decision that broke her heart. 

‘She decided what, she did what?’ 

“So, what did she do, really, between January and mid-March to protect our seniors. She who had asked the Premier to have responsibility for CHSLDs for her return to political activity. She decided what, she did what? 

“The burdened families will be needing answers from the key witness. The gaping hole up to now, January to mid-March, is keeping families from completing their mourning. Because remembering is important.” 

Delivering much-awaited testimony during Coroner Kamel’s inquiry last week, Marguerite Blais confirmed that the Quebec government focused on protecting hospitals, while remaining largely in the dark as to the potential damage the virus could inflict on those living and working in long-term care settings. 

Blais said she wasn’t aware 

Kamel pointed to a letter the province’s Health Ministry sent out on Jan. 28, 2020, asking the heads of regional health boards to begin preparing for the virus. Yet Blais said it was not until March 9 that she became aware of the danger the virus posed to seniors, after receiving that information from the World Health Organization. 

‘What happened in January, when they knew, until mid-March, when action finally started to be taken?’

“We thought it was going to affect hospitals,” she told the inquiry. “We didn’t prepare CHSLDs as we prepared hospitals. Blais was shown an internal note sent by Quebec Public Health, dated Feb. 7, 2020, which explained that the coronavirus put seniors at risk. 

Blais said she had never seen the note and was unaware of its existence.