This week, several media outlets here and abroad reported that doctors and med students in Quebec are protesting because Canada’s National Health Service is offering them pay raises. Over 750 members of a group called Médecins Québécois pour le Régime Public (MQRP) have signed a letter expressing concerns that they are getting more money while nurses and patients are going without. They are calling upon their government to re-allocate those funds to nurses’ salaries and patient services.

This protest comes in the wake of funding cutbacks and shakeups in Canada’s health care system in several provinces – including layoffs and moves toward privatization. In Quebec, doctors’ salaries have doubled over the past decade – but the amount of time they spent working and seeing patients has gone down.

In their letters, MQRP members expressed support for a “strong public system” as well as their own opposition to the most recent salary hikes. They are also highly critical of the Health Ministry:

These increases are all the more shocking because our nurses, clerks and other professionals face very difficult working conditions, while our patients live with the lack of access to required services because of the drastic cuts in recent years and the centralization of power in the Ministry of Health. The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our remuneration.”

The letter, which calls the pay hikes “indecent,” is not the first time these doctors have let their opinions be known. An earlier letter decried pay raises for specialists.

Dr. Isabelle Leblanc, president of the MQRP, told the Montreal Gazette, “The increase in physicians’ fees in the past decade has helped physicians – because they’re making more money — but it hasn’t helped the patients.” She added, “If our colleagues are happier, if our patients are getting better care, we’ll all be winners, and it’s not an increase in pay that will do that.”

In response, Quebec’s Minister of Health, Gaétan Barrette, says that If they [doctors] feel they are overpaid, they can leave the money on the table. I guarantee you I can make good use of it.” He also notes that while the province can certainly spend more on medical support personnel, funding is not unlimited.

However, it turns out, the medical community of Quebec has made a powerful statement that government officials in the U.S. would do well to hear: health care is not about money and profits – it is about service and easing the suffering of others.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.