Quebec Premier François Legault will hold a news conference this afternoon after accepting the resignation of the province’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Aruda.
Aruda submitted his resignation on Monday as the Omicron wave continued to affect hospitals across the province, forcing the health care network to suspend surgeries and other medical services.
In his letter, Aruda wrote that if the prime minister so desired, he would continue to serve. A spokesman for Legault confirmed to CBC News that the premier had accepted his resignation.
CBC will broadcast the news conference live with an English translation at 1 p.m. ET.
Aruda has served in this position for almost 12 years. He was reappointed in June 2020 for a further three-year term.
Radio-Canada has learned that Legault hopes to appoint Dr. Luc Boileau to head INESSS, the province’s health care research institute.
separation of science and politics
Daniel Beland, a professor of political science at McGill University, said he was not surprised to see Aruda stepping down in light of recent criticism.
But Beland cautioned against placing the blame entirely on Aruda’s feet. He said the job of the Director of Public Health is to provide information to government officials, who ultimately make policy based on that evidence.
“The responsibility of managing the crisis rests with the prime minister. And that is something he will have to bear till the elections, the provincial elections in October,” he said.
However, Beland said the position of director of public health is also vaguely political.
Although Aruda was not an elected official, the director of public health automatically becomes an assistant deputy health minister, who is institutionally tied to the government.
“It creates a kind of ambiguous situation where you’re free, but they don’t make you completely free at the same time,” he said.
Béland pointed to March 2020, when Aruda was rapidly becoming the face of Quebec’s response to the pandemic.
“He developed a fan base and in terms of communication, he was first talking about public health measures and population guidelines, and they became some form of media czar,” he said.
Beland said that the premier then appeared to “push Aruda aside” in order to regain the public image, despite being a more controversial figure.
,[Legault needs] To reassure the public that the government is still listening to the scientists, and the government understands the public’s frustration,” he said.
Opposition backs Aruda, condemns Legault
Quebec Liberal Leader Dominic Anglade tweeted his thanks to Aruda on Monday, saying he had “set aside his life and his family for all of us” during the pandemic.
However, she criticized Legault, accusing him of trying to blame Aruda for recent failures in pandemic policy.
“The departure of Dr. Aruda will not solve anything. Decisions are made by [Legault] and should be based on science and not choice and gut feelings,” Englad wrote.
During recent news conferences, Legault has been asked regularly whether he still believes in Aruda and has been defended by Premier.
Another opposition party, Quebec Solidaire, has also shown its support for the outgoing director of public health.
Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois tweeted thanking Aruda for his dedication to the province’s “long neglected and underfunded” health care system.
“During this pandemic, he served Quebec faithfully. It was the CAQ (Coalition Avenir Quebec) government that made the decision,” Nadeau-Dubois wrote.
“Aruda sacrificed himself for the government’s bad decisions,” agreed Parti Québécois leader Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon on Twitter.