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Province cool to doctors’ demand

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TORONTO—A demand by the Ontario Medical Association for binding arbitration before any resumption of negotiations on a new fee agreement for doctors is not going over well with the Liberal government.

OMA president Dr. Virgina Walley issued an open letter to physicians yesterday saying the association will return to negotiations with the province once it has direction from doctors on what they want.

“It’s clear that members want a system of binding arbitration in place before any return to physician services agreement negotiations,” Walley wrote.

A senior Liberal government source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the current relations with doctors, the OMA, and the province, called Walley’s letter frustrating.

“They’re now putting themselves in the position where they think they can demand everything they want before we even sit down back at the table,” said the source.

“I think that’s an indication that they’re not interested in negotiating a fair agreement.”

The government also insisted the issue really isn’t about binding arbitration, which it’s willing to discuss at the bargaining table, but actually is about more money for medical specialists, 500 of whom already earn more than $1 million a year.

“They need to stop pretending the issue is about binding arbitration,” said the source.

“It is clear the only thing they’re concerned about is even bigger pay raises for high-billing specialists.”

More than 63 percent of doctors who cast ballots Sunday voted against the tentative deal, which would have raised the physician services budget by 2.5 percent a year—to $12.9 billion by 2020.

It also would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars in additional one-time payments to physicians each year, and would allow doctors to co-manage the system with the government.

Walley wasn’t impressed with Health minister Eric Hoskins’s claim that he’s always been willing to consider binding arbitration, but that it must be done as part of the negotiations process.

“He adds it must be within pre-set fixed financial limits,” Walley noted.

“This is the same position he took before the negotiation of the rejected tentative physician services agreement.”

Walley also announced the OMA had shut down its negotiations committees, severed ties with its negotiations adviser, and terminated its relationship with the public relations firm Navigator.

“In terms of developing the next negotiations mandate, we will be taking steps to consult with our membership and physician leaders,” she said.

A group calling itself the Coalition of Ontario Doctors, which led the campaign against the tentative agreement, had demanded changes in the OMA’s negotiating committees after the deal was rejected.

The OMA represents 42,000 physicians, residents, and medical students, including about 29,000 doctors, and has been without a fee agreement for more than two years.

Only 55 percent of members participated in last weekend’s vote to reject the deal—many of them angry at unilateral fee cuts imposed by the government.

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