Time for peace be­tween docs and province

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

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.

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