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Will Doctor Boileau be independent?

Catapulted by interim to the National Direction of Public Health of Quebec, in full fifth wave, the Dr Luc Boileau will have a mission that promises to be complex, demanding and a bit trapped politically.

Complex and demanding, because it happens that the confidence of Quebecers in the management of the pandemic has slipped from 81 to 65%.

Trapped, because after the repeated boondoggles of his predecessor, Horacio Arruda, several voices, including that of the College of Physicians, demand the depoliticization of Public Health and its boss. And that is him.

However, the same major problem remains. As Assistant Deputy Minister, his independence from political power, as for the Dr Arruda, risk of being limited.

On the form and on the substance, the Dr Boileau, unknown to the general public, yet clashes with the Dr Arruda. Technocrat from the seraglio of the senior civil service, he has skills and experience which, until proven guilty, are much more solid.

For having directed the National Institute of Public Health and the National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services, despite the inevitable flaws specific to any good technocrat, Luc Boileau will nevertheless have learned to operate there in an “independent” manner.

Orders placed

The tendency of the Prime Minister to place his “orders” publicly with the head of Public Health, if it continues, will harm him however. Even before Christmas, Mr. Legault said he wanted gatherings of 25 people.

Even though it was reckless, Horacio Arruda had complied, as usual. The very day of the arrival of the Dr Boileau within the “health trio”, Mr. Legault now said he wanted to return to class on January 17th. Luc Boileau authorized it yesterday.

In fact, the same waltz has been dancing since the start of the pandemic. How then to know if the opinions of the public health are independent or not of the policy? The question is not trivial.

That the Prime Minister, accountable to the population, is the one to make the final trade-offs is expected. However, it is essential that it be informed by the public health department in the most rigorous way possible.

The very integrity and efficiency of the decision-making process within the crisis unit, of which the Prime Minister is the general-in-chief, are at stake.

The Boileau “style”

In his new role, Dr Boileau will also have to show a certain talent as a teacher. The clarity and consistency of its explanations will depend on the already faltering support of Quebecers in this too long fight.

However, his opinion given yesterday on the N95 type masks – which he says “as safe” for teachers as the procedural masks – is seriously disappointing.

Let us hope that quickly – with COVID spreading by aerosols suspended in the air in poorly ventilated places – its opinion on masks and ventilation will better follow the most informed scientific knowledge.

And for good reason.

Less flamboyant and messy than the Dr Arruda, if the Dr Boileau, once well installed in his new role, came to “dare” to think outside the box of Quebec public health and did not hesitate to consult experts outside those of the public service, the “style” Boileau could s turn out to be the right one for a dragging crisis.

But only time – and in a pandemic, it runs fast – will tell.