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Ontario Doctors Are Fed Up With The Province's Sham Negotiations

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ERIC HOSKINS
Andrew Francis Wallace via Getty Images
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Two weeks before Christmas and just as Queen's Park Legislature stops all business until February 2017, Ontario's minister of health lobbed an explosive proposal at doctors in the province. Though Ontario's physicians have been working without a contract since March 2014, the government's latest PR stunt was met with widespread fury.

Without any warning, without any actual negotiations, the minister dumped his take-it-or-leave-it proposal on the Ontario Medical Association and then swiftly held a press conference to crow about his accomplishment. Since the OMA was taken completely by surprise, the vast majority of Ontario's doctors learned about the proposed three-year contract through the media. This has done nothing to improve the acrimonious relationship between doctor and government.

My dear Dr. Eric Hoskins, this is not negotiation. This is not collaboration. This is not even simple courtesy. Underhanded tactics like this are complete political BS.

From initial reports in the media, this proposal shares disturbing similarities with the tentative agreement that was overwhelmingly rejected by Ontario's doctors a mere four months ago. This latest offer still doesn't include any mention of binding arbitration to protect against schoolyard bullying tactics like this. It tries to divide family doctors and specialists -- even though the government has severely cut funding for both. Targeting highly productive physicians providing over $1 million worth of patient care per year often in under-serviced areas begs the question: who exactly will provide these services when these doctors stop?

And more, media reports suggest that family doctors will get a raise -- a raise! -- of 1.4 per cent for doing more after-hours work. Dear health minister, being paid more to do more work is not a raise; it's standard labour practice. Only the Ontario Liberals would call paying for overtime a "raise."

The reality for patients, caregivers and front-line workers struggling with Premier Kathleen Wynne's "world-class health-care system" is heartbreaking.

The worst part, this proposal still short-changes the funding necessary for physicians to meet patient needs -- in fact, the government's press release deceptively calls it an "increase." Our esteemed government asked the federal health minister for a 5.2 per cent increase in health-care funding to simply "sustain existing services" -- even though we all see that existing services are inadequate to meet existing patient need. Last year, the government funded 4.1 per cent growth in physician services and that in itself wasn't enough; patients still saw ballooning wait-times for consultations, imaging and surgeries. So offering to fund 2.5 per cent growth -- half of what's needed, in other words -- for the next three years is a cut, plain and simple.

It's insulting to doctors and to the public to think that we won't notice the discrepancy. Ontario Liberal math just doesn't add up.

This health-care system is in crisis. Colleagues speak of cancer patients still dying on waitlists for stem cell transplants... Emergency Departments clogged with sick patients desperate for a bed... medically necessary surgeries cancelled on a weekly basis. My God, even palliative patients -- dying patient in their last days to weeks -- are on waitlists for home care.

I am tired of fighting to get my patients services they need and have paid for through their taxes. The reality for patients, caregivers and front-line workers struggling with Premier Kathleen Wynne's "world-class health-care system" is heartbreaking.

Instead of taking this crisis seriously, the health minister grandstands and plays childish games with the province's doctors. I suspect the Liberals are trying to deflect attention from their disastrous Patients First Act. As a result, the divide between doctors and government is only widening. The distrust and outrage is ramping up. The OMA President's press release noted the escalating tension and demand for job action: "All options are on the table."

The Ontario government is using strong-arm tactics on doctors: public shaming, divide-and-conquer, negotiating in the media, and outright lies about what funding for front-line physician services should look like. At a time when this province desperately needs honest, intelligent partnership, the Liberals offer a slap in the face.

It seems the only language this government understands is of force and manipulation. Doctors are fed up: enough is enough.

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