09/12/2014 10:29 EDT | Updated 11/12/2014 05:59 EST

Gaétan Barrette gives doctors deadline on salary dispute

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has given two doctors’ federations until 5 p.m. today to make a counter-offer on a salary dispute that risks becoming a stalemate.

Premier Philippe Couillard’s government wants to spread $900 million in salary raises over nine years, while the doctors want to spread it over six years.

The outcome of the dispute will weigh heavily on the Liberals’ ability to balance the budget.

- INFOGRAPHIC | Breaking down Quebec's doctor premiums

Quebec’s federation of general practitioners (known by its French acronym FMOQ) said that the government’s offer is misleading because it intends to concentrate the bulk of the salary increases between the fifth and ninth years of the proposed structure.

FMOQ said the biggest increases would come in the eighth and ninth years, and it called that unacceptable.

The money is primarily destined for doctors in government-run retirement homes, long-term care facilities and emergency departments.

Of the $900 million, $300 million concerns general practitioners and $600 million is for medical specialists.

Negotiations are slow-going

Minister Barrette told Radio-Canada that the doctors’ federations have been dragging their heels on presenting counter-offers to the government’s proposals, and that this “game” of offers and counter-offers needs to stop so that both parties can move on.

He denied issuing an ultimatum to doctors, and did not speculate on what the consequences would be if doctors did not present a counter-offer today by 5 p.m.

“We will see at 5:01 p.m. to know what the conclusion will be,” he said.

FMOQ spokesman Jean-Pierre Dion said it would be impossible to put together a counter-offer by Barrette’s deadline, saying that they would likely not be able to present one before the start of next week.

Dion said the government’s most recent offer is essentially identical to the one they submitted on July.