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Rural Outaouais, forever neglected in election campaigns

The rural areas of the Outaouais have the unpleasant impression of being in the politicians’ blind spot. The Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) government has certainly recognized the chronic underfunding of the health region. But far from the city, we hardly feel the effects.

February 2020. The Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Pontiac Hospital in Shawville is closing its doors due to a lack of enough nurses to operate. Then we talk about a six-month break. However, we are in September 2022 and it still has not resumed its activity.

“It’s dragging on,” laments Denis Marcheterre, spokesman for Action santé Outaouais, which has been campaigning for years to improve services in the region. “Specialized nurses are hard to find. There is already a shortage in Gatineau, and there is an even greater shortage in rural regions like Shawville. »

A small community of 1,500 residents, it is an hour’s drive west of Gatineau. On the spot, people vacillate between resignation and anger. “Pregnant women have to give birth in Gatineau, Ottawa or Pembrooke [en Ontario]. By the time they leave, the baby can come out,” says Lorna Philippe exasperatedly as she walks past the hospital parking lot. “This is unacceptable. Before retiring Mr.me Philippe was a nurse at the hospital. Now he volunteers to drive seniors to their appointments.

“Yes”, it will affect his vote. But as ? She laughs that her “heart wavers” between the two candidates, but that “they promise us; then we no longer exist”.

Mme Philippe speaks French with a strong English accent. Predominantly English-speaking, Shawville was colonized by Irish Protestants in the early 19th century.e century. Her site states that they “went through dense forest and insect-infested swamps until the next day when they came to a clearing where a spring gushed out of the ground.”

The property along the hill leading to the hospital is today dominated by majestic willows. A neat orange-brick business with nothing shabby about it. butme Philippe is already dreading the day when it finally closes. “If this continues, we won’t have anything left in Pontiac, they’ll close everything. If you let the case go, it’s over. »

The feeling of being forgotten and neglected by Quebec is strong in the region. The presence of the Ontario border created a pernicious dynamic. In the Outaouais, when there is a lack of service, we go to Ontario. So instead of investing in Quebec, the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) reimburses the Ontario government for its good services by an average of $100 million a year. Meanwhile, health workers are being lured by better salaries on the Ontario side. And so on.

Parliament acknowledged the delay

In 2018, a group of leaders, including former Gatineau mayor Maxime Pedneault-Jobin, convinced parliament to pass a motion acknowledging that the Outaouais “have fallen far behind in recent years in terms of funding for public health, education, higher education and culture.” . .

Did it do anything? “No,” laughs Mr. Marcheterre of Action santé Outaouais. “We have to keep pushing, we have to keep the pace. »

Furthermore, the injustice experienced by the Outaouais has lost its unique character because the Laurentians also claim to be structurally deficient.

At least the region has been listening more to politicians since the 2018 election campaign. The CAQ then criticized the Liberals for taking the Outaouais for granted for decades, aside from promising the region a new hospital. The speech went out and three of the five ridings elected Caquists: Mathieu Lacombe in Papineau, Robert Bussières in Gatineau and Mathieu Lévesque in Chapleau.

Two Liberals were spared: Maryse Gaudreault in Hull and André Fortin in Pontiac. The poster of the young member of parliament can also be seen in front of Shawville Hospital, whose situation he often pilloried in the Blue Room in recent years. Marcheterre expects to be re-elected, as indicated by the polls.

One thing is certain, nobody takes the Outaouais voters for granted anymore, rejoices Mr. Marcheterre, who on the day of the interview was invited to meetings with people from the CAQ and PLQ who were interested in his demands. “Gatineau is starting to have political weight, but the rest of the Outaouais is not,” he points out, however.

And yet there would be something to do. The average income of people in Pontiac and Vallée-de-l’Outaouais ($24,000) is well below the regional average ($27,000), which is less than in Quebec (almost $30,000). The same is true for life expectancy, which hovers around 77 years, while the average in Quebec is 81 years, according to a study by the Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Information (IRIS) published in 2021.

From the start, the Gatineau hospital “will help, but it’s for ten years, and we’ll die a few times by then,” says Mr. Marcheterre, mockingly. “In the meantime, something must be done. CISSS has a good plan to improve services in rural areas, especially with CLSC and home care. But you still have to be able to finance it. “Will the CISSS negotiate with Quebec again? »

Two items of pride are missing

Of course, everything is not so gloomy. According to the IRIS study, patients in rural MRCs in the Outaouais benefit from a better ratio of family doctors and nurses per capita than those in Gatineau. But when it comes to professional care, the opposite is true.

This is the case in Shawville, as well as in Thurso, in the east of the region, where Obligation. The mayor of the city, Benoît Lauzon, says that we must stop calling for the region to “catch up”. “Because if we continue to talk to the government about what we did not get, we will not move forward, but other regions are moving forward. Has the government acknowledged the delay? Let him solve it. »

At the crossroads in the village, Danielle Laberge says that in June, paramedics took her to the emergency room in Saint-André-Avellin, 30 kilometers from her home, for free. Since the staff did not have the equipment to x-ray her back injury, she was taken by ambulance to another facility nearby. “They kept me waiting for an hour and a half to tell me I had to go to Buckingham Hospital. 43 kilometers further.

This young pensioner is doubly affected by the lack of specialist services because her husband has very advanced cancer. “You have to be careful because we are far from hospitals. […] When we call an ambulance, the wait is long and you never know what will happen. The couple lives in Lac-Simon, a recreational area, far from the city. But for how long? “Are we getting close to hospitals? We hesitate. »

Obligation exceeded Mme Laberge with her husband in Thurso, on the terrace of the refreshments, where no one was interested in the election campaign. Thurso is famous for two things: Guy Lafleur and the fortress factory that dominates the town, two objects of pride that have recently disappeared.

The pulp mill closed its doors three years ago. The multi-storey complex is a landmark of the city. At least 300 workers earned their living there. In a town with 3,000 inhabitants, the impact is huge, explains Mayor Benoît Lauzon. “Several families had to move in the last three years. As for the municipality, it lost a third of its income from the land.

Hard closing of the factory

On site, everyone is directly or indirectly affected by the company’s route. The snack bar owner worked there and his brother Jacques, whom he met there, who is very tired of politics, but thinks that François Legault “should” come back to see what he can do when the pandemic is no longer there.

Danielle’s son is also a veteran of the fort. Like everyone else, he found a job, but the pay and benefits aren’t the same, Danielle notes. “He managed to find a work somewhere else, but it’s in the emergency room and away from home. »

The closing of the factory casts a shadow over everything else. No more groups of workers filling the terrace at lunchtime, laments Suzanne Lalonde from the kitchen, where she prepares fries. “We don’t have people anymore. At the same time, the refreshments are understaffed to serve them. As the only restaurant in the area that had to be closed. “It’s just us and then Subway next door,” says Sophie, who takes orders from customers at the snack bar.

For the mayor, who is also the prefect of MRK, the revival of the plant is crucial for the survival of forestry in the region. And yes, it is an election issue. “When the Gaspésie experienced a fishing crisis and the economy was not good, the government invested in the region and today things are going well. We in the Outaouais are the forest industry. There are 60 municipalities in the region and we have 60 forest workers.”

However, in the Pevnost file, he is reluctant to evaluate the work of Minister of Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon. Specifically, the government loaned the company $8 million to maintain the plant’s infrastructure while it waits for a buyer that is slowly committing.

With the greatest skepticism followed the effort on the refreshment terrace. The parties are promising too much money, thinks Danielle, who also doubts the effectiveness of the subsidies granted to revive the Fortress for ten years. “We don’t want money. But do me a favor! Services everywhere, not only in big cities. »

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