MONTREAL — Quebec's health and welfare commissioner is the latest senior official investigating the province's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of at least 5,729 Quebecers.
Health Minister Christian Dube said Wednesday his government has mandated Joanne Castonguay to evaluate the performance of the health network — in particular it's hard-hit long-term care and seniors homes — and come back with a report by September 2021.
Dube said the province is willing to give Castonguay the power to compel witnesses to testify is she requests it.
"How did we perform in that first wave? ... What has gone wrong or what was not done properly in terms of performance, in terms of governance?" Dube told reporters in Quebec City.
Castonguay's investigation is one of several into the province's long-term care homes, where the majority of Quebec's COVID-19-related deaths have occurred.
In June, the coroner's office launched a vast public inquiry into COVID-19 deaths at some of the province's long-term care homes, private seniors residences and other accommodations for vulnerable people. While in May, the Ombudsperson's office said it too would investigate the Health Department's response to the crisis.
Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret's report is only due next fall, but a progress report is expected in the coming months.
Unlike the other focused investigations, Castonguay's task is to look at the general performance of the health system. She will be assisted by Anne Lemay, a health economist, and by Jean-Louis Denis, a professor at the Universite de Montreal.
The government's COVID performance was under the microscope Wednesday as Premier Francois Legault fended off criticism from the opposition parties of his government's handling of the crisis during budget appropriation hearings.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade questioned Legault as to why the province didn't act with more urgency, given what was happening in other countries between January and early March of this year.
She asked why the province waited until Feb. 27 to order protective equipment when other provinces had started stockpiling much earlier and why Legault replaced Danielle McCann with Dube in June, the only province to make a switch mid-pandemic.
Legault responded that while equipment inventories were tight, there was never an outright lack of personal protective equipment. He said the decision to change health ministers was to "breathe new life" into the fight against the pandemic.
Quebec has been hit hardest by the virus. Even though it accounts for 22 per cent of the Canadian population, Quebec has recorded 63 per cent of all deaths across the country since the start of the pandemic.
The province reported 64 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths linked to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday. Health officials said both people died between Aug. 12-17.
The latest figures raise the province's totals to 61,316 confirmed cases and 5,729 deaths since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations climbed by one to 146, with 26 people in intensive care.
Wednesday was the sixth straight day the province reported fewer than 100 cases of the disease linked to the novel coronavirus. At least 54,238 people have recovered from the illness.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2020.
The Canadian Press