MONTREAL -- Quebec Premier François Legault laid out various reasons for his surprise cabinet shuffle on Monday, but one of the province’s senior statesmen isn’t buying them.

Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair slammed Legault’s end-of-session switch, saying ex-Health Minister Danielle McCann is being made to “walk the plank” to cover for the government’s bigger COVID-19 failures, while the new justice minister has shown “a total disregard for rights.”

Mulcair said that Legault’s political experience is clear in what he described as a carefully planned diversion timed for just after the legislative session wrapped up.

“He wouldn’t give the journalists anything to poke at while they’re still sitting,” Legault said.

Removing the health minister in the middle of a pandemic was the most dramatic move, he said. It’s even more striking considering that McCann has been “fiercely loyal” to Legault and helped him get elected, Mulcair said.

He said he was skeptical of the reasons given and found them “almost insulting” towards McCann.

Legault said he wanted more of an experienced manager to lead the health department, appointing current Treasury Board secretary Christian Dubé. But Mulcair said McCann “was one of the most senior managers in the health system” and that Legault was well aware of this, as a former health minister himself.

“He’s going to try to say 'We found the person responsible, and it’s not François Legault.'”

Quebec did clearly fail to pass a law that some other provinces put in place early to stop COVID-19 transmission, Mulcair said.

British Columbia government came out with a rule on March 27 that health-care staff weren’t allowed to work at multiple facilities. Ontario did the same two weeks later.

“Madame McCann talked about it, but they would never gave her a hard-and-fast rule that could be enforced,” Mulcair said. 

“Well guess what, 4,000 people died… and now she’s being made to be a scapegoat for the whole thing, when it was a failure of the entire system.”

Mulcair also criticized Legault’s other choices for provincial cabinet, with one exception.

It’s “nice to see Sonia LeBel go to the Treasury Board,” he said.

Legault’s bill to try to rescue the economy, Bill 61, was put on ice at the end of the session, with opposition parties saying it was too rushed. 

Now it will be LeBel’s problem to solve, Mulcair said—but she is up to the task, he said, calling her “a great public spokesperson, a thoughtful manager.” 

“She’s simply one of the best justice ministers we’ve had,” asid Mulcair, a lawyer.

As for Bill 61, “there is time to rethink it, and I hope Sonia LeBel does just that.”

On the other hand, he said he was disappointed that the man responsible for the Bill 61 “travesty” in the first place—Dubé—is “getting this major promotion to Health.”

Mulcair said the most troubling thing to him, however, was the justice minister switch. Justice will now go from LeBel’s hands to those of Simon Jolin-Barrette, the 33-year-old minister who has been heading the immigration ministry.

“This is the man who has shown a total disregard for rights with Bill 21,” said Mulcair.

“It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen such a horrible nomination from any government in the past 35 years.”

In his announcement, Legault noted that Jolin-Barrette is the youngest justice minister in the province's history. While heading the justice department, he will also remain minister in charge of the French Language.