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Unions demonstrate against agreements with Quebec, health care bill

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There is major unrest in Quebec's health and social services sector.

One union is still without an agreement in principle and another is refusing to sign its agreement because of a disagreement in the text.

In addition, protesters took to the foot of the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal on Monday to voice their concerns with Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé's health care reform law (Bill 15), which created the new Santé-Québec agency.

"We want people to see us and we want the government to hear that people don't want more private sector in health care," said Hugo Vaillancourt of the Coalition Solidarité Santé.

The coalition says the government has been centralizing the health care network more and it's not working.

"If this was the solution, the system would be doing better because that's what we've been doing for 20 years," said Vaillancourt.

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) patients committee says the largest challenge facing the network is the lack of access to family doctors and primary care.

"Access to services is an enormous challenge and we don't see anything in the reform, of course, that directly addresses these problems. So we're all concerned," said MUCH patients committee chair Ingrid Kovitch.

The Health Ministry told CTV News in a statement that Santé-Québec opening doors to the private sector is "simply not true."

"With Santé-Québec, we're acquiring people with solid, complementary backgrounds, who arrive with a fresh perspective to implement the necessary changes," the ministry said.

Monday's unrest is not new.

On Saturday, several unions demonstrated outside the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) convention, including Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) members who are still without an agreement in principle after voting against Quebec's offer.

The federation is calling for better working conditions and wages.

Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel responded, "The government must respect Quebecers' ability to pay, be fair to other unionized workers and have collective agreements that allow us to offer quality care," adding "balanced agreements were reached with the Common Front" thanks to "flexibility" on the union side.

Patients' advocates are urging the two parties to reach an agreement so qualified workers don't leave to go elsewhere, potentially compromising patient care.

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