TORONTO — Ontario's health minister is asking the province's doctors if binding arbitration is so important that they are willing to form a public-sector union and disclose their salaries.
The Ontario Medical Association has asked for it as a condition of returning to negotiations on a new fee agreement for doctors.
Doctors voted down a tentative deal, which would have raised the physician services budget by 2.5 per cent a year, to $12.9 billion by 2020, following a concerted campaign from a group calling itself the Coalition of Ontario Doctors.
One of the group's concerns was that the deal didn't include binding arbitration, with the government and OMA instead agreeing to allow a court challenge on it to continue.
But with the OMA now saying it wants binding arbitration in place before talks resume, Health Minister Eric Hoskins has sent OMA president Dr. Virginia Walley a charged letter.
"Let me assure you, if the OMA's insistence that it be awarded the right of binding arbitration that we have provided to other public sector unions is so great that it is willing to be re-constituted formally as a union and accept all the obligations that other public sector unions have adopted — including withdrawing objections to salary disclosure that all other government unions are subject to and relinquishing the rights of members to incorporate individually — the government would be open to that discussion," Hoskins wrote.
Hundreds of doctors bill OHIP more than $1 million per year, but other than doctors at hospitals, their salaries are not included in the annual list of public-sector workers making over $100,000.
The average Ontario doctor bills $360,000 a year, but must pay staff and any office expenses out of that amount. Media outlets have launched an appeal to get more information on doctors' billings after requests through freedom of information were rejected.
Hoskins writes that the government is prepared to let the OMA sort out its internal issues, but Ontario doctors have already been without a compensation agreement for two years. Last year the government moved to unilaterally impose some cuts in their fees and tensions have run high.
Many doctors, including the outspoken group Concerned Ontario Doctors, expressed shock when a deal was reached last month since they were unaware talks had even resumed.
But they were also unhappy with the terms of the deal and took the OMA negotiating team to task.
Walley said last week that the OMA had shut down its negotiations committees, severed ties with its negotiations adviser and terminated its relationship with the public relations firm Navigator.