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New lead negotiator named in doctor talks

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TORONTO—Doug Ford's government has appointed a new lead negotiator for crucial contract talks with province's doctors, selecting a man who helped the premier's late brother secure a key labour deal during his term as mayor of Toronto.

Robert Reynolds, a former labour negotiator for the City of Toronto and Magna International, was made negotiations chair for talks with the Ontario Medical Association, according to a cabinet order made public this week.

Ontario's doctors have been without a contract for five years and were engaged in difficult negotiations with the previous Liberal government—something Ford has vowed to address.

“Our government has brought on Robert Reynolds to put a fresh face on the negotiations,” a spokeswoman for Health minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

“We are confident that his extensive experience will prove instrumental in making progress at the negotiating table.”

The Liberals had “created a toxic relationship” with Ontario's doctors that the Tories will try to repair, Hayley Chazan said.

“Our government's determination to negotiate with health-care workers is not only essential for repairing our damaged relationship with doctors, but is also crucial for producing a physician services agreement,” she noted.

“These negotiations will significantly influence health-care spending in the province.”

The Ontario Medical Association, which represents some 44,000 doctors in talks with the province, returned to the bargaining table after the Progressive Conservatives won a majority in June.

The two sides had been scheduled for arbitration in July but used those days for negotiation instead.

Bargaining talks are expected to continue later this month, the OMA said.

“Our goal has always been to have a fair agreement for our members and a productive relationship with government,” OMA president Dr. Nadia Alam said in a statement.

“We look forward to continuing discussions.”

Reynolds is eligible to be paid a maximum of $217,500 for roughly 50 days of talks.

He takes over as negotiation team chair from Dr. Barry McLellan, who was appointed in August, 2017 and was removed from the role by the Ford government earlier this month.

In 2012, when Rob Ford was mayor of Toronto and Doug Ford was a city councillor, Reynolds was part of a team at city hall that negotiated a deal with unions representing thousands of the civic workers.

That agreement averted a strike and led to union concessions on benefits and job security favourable to the municipality.

Rob Ford said at the time that the four-year-deal saved the city roughly $141 million.

Doug Holyday, who served as deputy mayor in the Ford administration and was involved in the 2012 negotiations, called Reynolds a good choice to lead the talks with the OMA.

“He's fair," he said. "He'll understand the issues and he'll try to get to the bottom of it.”

The province's doctors voted down a proposal in 2016 that would have increased the roughly $12-billion physician services budget by more than $1 billion but also included $200 million in fee cuts.

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