MONTREAL — Former premier Jean Charest made his first official public appearance since losing the Sept. 4 Quebec election to pay tribute to his former colleague Lawrence Bergman at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH).
The JGH presented the D’Arcy McGee MNA with its highest honour, the Distinguished Service Award, at its 78th annual general meeting.
President Rick Dubrovsky described Bergman as being a tireless supporter of the JGH ever since he was first elected in 1994.
In particular, Bergman was instrumental in obtaining government approval and funding for the major expansion the JGH is currently undergoing.
Last year, the government announced that it is contributing $300 million toward the largest ever addition to the JGH’s patient-care facilities.
Construction continues on the new Pavilion K, a six-storey building that will house emergency and critical-care departments and more general-care beds, among other services. Altogether, the JGH is slated to grow by 40 per cent when work is completed, which is expected to be the end of 2014.
Charest affirmed that Bergman’s intervention was key in persuading him and then-health minister Yves Bolduc and finance minister Raymond Bachand to give the project the green light.
“Those who have had the privilege of working with Lawrence know how determined he can be, how persistent,” said Charest. “But he never raised his voice, he didn’t need to. He was very persuasive.”
Charest, who is expected to practise law in Montreal, said his government’s investment in the JGH “represented the trust we had in him and your community,” and recognition of the exceptional care provided at the JGH.
Charest said he is a JGH patient himself, quickly adding that he’s in fine health.
He also noted that his father-in-law, Philippe Dion, who was a surgeon in Sherbrooke for many years, died at the JGH just over a year ago at age 90. Charest said the family is grateful for the compassion shown to him in his final days.
Also present was the Liberal interim leader Jean-Marc Fournier and National Assembly Speaker Jacques Chagnon. Charest joked that the evening was actually a Liberal party fundraiser.
Bergman said he was overwhelmed by the tribute and that he was proud to have helped the JGH, which he lauded for having been open to every Quebecer since the beginning.
“The JGH represents the finest values of the Jewish people, that of benevolence… Succeeding generations have maintained that tradition, and the JGH is an indelible part of the Montreal landscape,” he said.
The JGH will have to get its finances in order.
Treasurer Gary Wechsler reported that the JGH spent $326.9 million in the current year, leaving it with a deficit of $24.7 million.
The provincial government requires the JGH to balance its budget within two years, Wechsler said, and a plan has been submitted, but no response has been received yet.
Executive director Hartley Stern said the expenditure overrun can partly be attributed to the JGH being “the victim of its own success.”
He said the emergency department is being used by many people who do not live anywhere near the JGH. Polls show that they come there because they think they will get better treatment, he said.