06/18/2012 06:07 EDT | Updated 08/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Survey suggests Ontario MDs unhappy with labour talks

Eight in 10 Ontario doctors see fault in the way the provincial government is handling ongoing labour negotiations, while nearly nine in 10 support bringing a conciliator into the process, a new survey suggests.

Nanos Research conducted an online survey from May 28 to June 4, asking 5,596 physicians a series of questions about the ongoing negotiations between the provincial government and the Ontario Medical Association.

The survey was commissioned by the OMA, which represents about 25,000 doctors in Ontario. Nik Nanos, the president and CEO of Nanos Research, said that about 20 per cent of physicians across the province took part in the survey.

Nanos said the doctors that took part in the recent online survey were very clear about their dissatisfaction with the way the government has been negotiating with them.

"What’s interesting is that physicians tend to believe that the government is being irresponsible in its negotiating and would actually like to see a conciliator intervene in order to break the impasse," he told CBC News in a recent interview.

OMA taking government to court

The OMA is taking the government to court over its move to unilaterally impose fee cuts.

The province cut $338 million worth of fees for services provided by doctors after the OMA walked away from the negotiating table.

The OMA wants the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to review the government's negotiating tactics. It also wants the court to decide that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to doctors, and order the government to negotiate in good faith before taking unilateral action like cuts.

"In the past we’ve worked collaboratively with the government to reduce waste and to find efficiencies in the system. And we'd like to do that again," said Dr. Doug Weir, the OMA president, in an interview with CBC News.

"But we’re only going to achieve that if we’re working together rather than them unilaterally imposing fee cuts on the profession."

1 in 40 MDs feels government acting responsibly

In the Nanos survey, participating physicians were asked how they would describe the Government of Ontario's handling of the negotiations.

Only 2.5 per cent — or one in 40 — of the physicians surveyed said the government was acting responsibly, while 7.3 per cent said the government was acting somewhat responsibly.

Those responses were dwarfed by the 81.4 per cent of doctors who said the government was acting either irresponsibly (59.3 per cent) or somewhat irresponsibly (22.1 per cent).

A small fraction of doctors (5.1 per cent) surveyed said the government was acting neither responsibly nor irresponsibly, while 3.7 per cent said they were unsure.

Few doctors believe OMA acting irresponsibly

When asked the same question about how they would describe how the OMA is handling the negotiations, the respondents were much more supportive.

More than one-third of the physicians surveyed (36.3 per cent) said the OMA was acting responsibly, while 30.2 per cent said the organization was acting somewhat responsibly.

About one in 10 doctors (10.5 per cent) surveyed said the OMA was acting neither responsibly nor irresponsibly, while a similar number of participants said the OMA was acting somewhat irresponsibly (10.3 per cent).

Just 6.1 per cent felt the OMA was acting irresponsibly, a smaller fraction than the 6.7 per cent, who were unsure.

Doctors favour OMA proposal

Respondents were also asked whether they prefer the government plan to cut $338 million from physician fees this year, or an OMA proposal to freeze physician fees for two years, while pledging to find $250 million in savings through consultations with physicians.

Fewer than one in 20 physicians (4.3 per cent) preferred the government plan, while 82.5 per cent preferred the OMA proposal.

The remaining 13.3 per cent were unsure of their preference.

The participating doctors were also asked which proposal they believed was in the best interest of patients. Three-quarters of respondents (75.6 per cent) said the OMA proposal was best for patients, while 4.7 per cent said the government proposal was best.

Nearly one in five physicians (19.7 per cent) surveyed was unsure.

Cuts would prompt some doctors to move, retire early

The Nanos survey also asked physicians about their willingness to move their practice outside Ontario if the government were to move ahead with its proposal.

Forty-one per cent of the doctors who participated in the survey indicated they would consider moving to another jurisdiction.

That was slightly less than the 45.9 per cent of respondents who said they would not, while 13.1 per cent said they were unsure.

Thirty-three per cent of doctors surveyed said they would consider accelerating possible retirement plans “because of the cuts to physician fees,” while 55.1 per cent would not. Twelve per cent said they were unsure.

More than one-third of the doctors (37.5 per cent) surveyed said they would consider layoffs in their practice if the Ontario government moves ahead with its proposal, while 39.6 per cent would not. Twenty-three per cent said they were unsure.

Most doctors support bringing in conciliator

More than two-thirds of respondents (67.3 per cent) were in support of bringing in a conciliator to help move negotiations forward, while an additional 20.8 per cent were somewhat in support of doing so.

Just 1.5 per cent of respondents were opposed to bringing in a conciliator, while one per cent were somewhat opposed. A further 3.8 per cent of doctors surveyed were unsure, while 5.6 per cent were neither supported nor opposed bringing in a conciliator.