Time for peace between docs and province
It’s good news that the Ontario Medical Association and provincial government are heading back to the bargaining table. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the resumption of talks Thursday afternoon, along with the fact that the two parties will first discuss the thorny matter of arbitration — doctors insist they need a third party to arbitrate while the province disagrees.
And Wynne says the province won’t do anything rash, like arbitrary fee cuts, as long as talks are going on. That’s good, too. But don’t mistake the return to bargaining for more than it is. This has deteriorated into an acrimonious relationship, and there’s no reason to think that will change until both sides finally find a compromise they can live with.
The Ontario Medical Association, which former premier Bob Rae last week bluntly called a union in search of more money, is in considerable disarray. Its executive recently resigned after a vote of non-confidence. Essentially the OMA is divided internally with a faction wanting more militant strategy and actions and another favouring a less confrontational approach.
The previous executive favoured the latter, and given what happened to them it’s safe to say the militant faction is in charge at least for now. Significantly, the militant faction is also more partisan with some itching to campaign against the Liberal government and on behalf of the Conservatives in the upcoming election. Also notably, some support more two-tier health care in Ontario, which says something about where their interests lie.
If all that doesn’t fill you with confidence for labour harmony in primary health care, it’s understandable. Already, some new OMA board members are using questionable language and tactics. Dr. Nadia Alam, a Georgetown doctor recently named to the board, says waiting times in areas like cancer care are so bad that patients in need of diagnosis and treatment are dying in the queue. No doubt some patients do die waiting for care. But while blaming the government for the deaths of vulnerable patients may play well in some quarters, it seems a step too far, especially in the absence of hard data to support that inflammatory claim.
Health-care consumers, the ones who rely on their family docs for primary care, for their children, themselves, their aging and sometimes frail parents and relatives, are caught in the middle, and to a point, are pawns in this battle. The OMA is making noise about more significant job action if it doesn’t get what it wants. The province has acted, in the past at least, arbitrarily and unilaterally, which isn’t appropriate.
There hasn’t been an agreement between the government and doctors for more than three years. For heaven’s sake, let’s get one.