EDMONTON - The president of the Alberta Medical Association is responding to what he calls five days of doctor-bashing by Premier Alison Redford.
Dr. Michael Giuffre said Wednesday that Redford is trying to make physicians scapegoats for Alberta's financial problems by implying they are overpaid.
He said the premier's remarks that linked physician contract talks with the possibility of her government bringing back health-care premiums just don't make sense, and won't help the two sides reach an agreement.
"How do we go out and continue to recruit doctors when the premier is out there saying those kind of things, how do we keep our doctors here?" Giuffre said Wednesday.
"How do we do that when we have a premier out there devaluing physicians?Rather upsetting. Rather perplexing. Very irresponsible behaviour."
Redford made her remarks about health-care premiums on Monday. The fees cost families about $1,056 a year before they were eliminated four years ago.
On Wednesday, the premier appeared to backtrack when she was asked if Alberta's March 7 budget would contain tax hikes or a reintroduction of the health premiums.
"We are not considering at all either health-care premiums or taxes in this budget," she said during a trip to Toronto.
The association and the province have been negotiating a new deal for doctors for almost two years. Frustrated by the lack of progress, the government imposed a deal on doctors last November, but later backed off, allowing talks to continue.
Earlier this month Giuffre said the association hoped to sign a deal with the government by the middle of March.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported last week that Alberta physicians made a gross yearly income of almost $350,000 in 2010-11, compared with a national average of $307,000.
The association said overhead costs eat up as much as 60 per cent of that $350,000.
Redford's remarks about physicians were a continuation of a government campaign over the past few weeks designed to prepare Albertans for a tough budget.
The premier went on TV last week to speak about falling oil prices that are expected to reduce government revenues by billions of dollars.
Giuffre said the premier's comments are not helpful and could amount to bad-faith bargaining.
"How does one interpret this form of intervention?" he said. "Is this what patients in Alberta want? I don't think so."
The doctors' group is planning an event of its own in Edmonton this weekend to keep Alberta physicians and the issue of health care in the public eye.
Giuffre said the meeting will be about primary care centres and will include physicians and patients from across Alberta. Most of the meeting will be open to the media.
"We will seek the input of patients so that family physician care can become better and more comprehensive," he said.
A similar meeting is in the works for Calgary.