MONTREAL - Premier Jean Charest was on the defensive on Monday morning after Health Minister Yves Bolduc claimed over the weekend that the province's surgeons were creating delays to pressure patients to use money-making clinics.

With both men inaugurating a new cancer centre in Laval, the health minister remained combative and called for the College of Physicians to investigate the situation.

"The problem is that if you have a long waiting list and sit with your patients and say, ‘You are going to have your operation in two weeks but you need to pay $10,000, or you are going to wait two years.' At that moment, I don't think the patient has a choice," said Bolduc.

"I want recommendations from the College of Physicians to be sure that we will have good access and equity for patients."

Bolduc called for wait times in both the public and private systems to be standardized.

The head of the College of Physicians expressed surprise and outrage at the suggestion that doctors were sending patients to the private system.

One spokesman minced no words in responding to Bolduc's comments.

"I've never seen anybody so keen on being re-elected and ready to say so many false things in my life," said Gaetan Barrette of the Federation of Quebec Medical Specialists. "Operating rooms in this province are functioning at 85 percent. We could do more but that's the responsibility of this minister."

One Montreal surgeon told CTV Montreal that he can do a paid surgery in two or three months, whereas a medicare surgery could take two years.

"There's lots of patients waiting for the surgery it's just that we dont have the or time to pass everyone through," said Orthopedic Surgeon Timothy Heron.

He says it's because he only gets one day and a half in the operating room.

One patients' rights advocate would like to see a somewhat different system adopted.

"Let's work on making the public system better by allowing more accords between hospitals and private specialized clinics," said Paul Brunet of the Quebec Patients' Rights Association.

With files from The Canadian Press.