Claude Castonguay, father of universal health care in Quebec, dies at 91

Claude Castonguay, a former provincial politician widely considered to be the father of universal health care in Quebec, has died at the age of 91, according to Radio-Canada.

On Saturday evening, Premier François Legault expressed his sadness on Twitter.

“Quebec has lost one of its greatest visionaries. Claude Castonguay leaves behind an immense legacy. All his life, he will have contributed to strengthening the quality and efficiency of our health system. I offer my condolences to his family and loved ones,” Legault wrote.

Health Minister Christian Dubé weighed in as well, saying that “Quebec has lost the father of health insurance.”

Born in 1929, Castonguay studied at Université Laval from 1948 to 1950. He went on to study as an actuary.

Castonguay entered politics through an unusual path. He approached then-Premier Jean Lesage and offered to collaborate on the project to get the Quebec Pension Plan up and running.

On January 1, 1966, the Quebec Pension Plan was officially established and Daniel Johnson appointed Castonguay president of an inquiry commission on the state of health and welfare in the province.

The commission recommended the creation of a mandatory and universal health insurance system.

Claude Castonguay after he was elected in 1970. ( BANQ / FONDS MINISTÈRE DES COMMUNICATIONS)

He was elected with the Liberal Party of Quebec in the riding of Louis-Hébert during the election of 1970 and named minister of health, families and welfare under Robert Bourassa.

After three years in government, he chose not to run in the 1973 election. But Castonguay continued to be vocal on the subject of Quebec healthcare and a wide range of political matters throughout his life.

“I did the essential, which I thought I had to do, and I left it to others to continue,” he said in a 1998 Radio-Canada interview.

He went on, in that same interview, to critique the health care system which he helped build.

“Our health system has become the victim of its own success and it’s become a sort of sacred cow, where any change is viewed with distrust.”

After his brief stint as an MNA, Castonguay went on to sit on the board of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec from 1973 to 1978 and served two years as a Conservative Senator before resigning in 1992.

In 2008, he was tasked with providing a report to the government of Quebec on the health-care system’s finances.

“I will always remember the pleasure I had discussing with Mr. Castonguay about our health system. A very wise man who, with his experience, carried us forward,” said Dr. Diane Francoeur, president of the Federation of Specialist Physicians of Quebec.

He was decorated with the Order of Canada in 1974 and was made an Officer and then Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec in 1991 and 2014, respectively.

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