08/03/2016 11:36 EDT | Updated 08/03/2016 11:59 EDT

Stop The Spin And Let Ontario Doctors Vote Their Conscience

Close-up of a male doctor sticking out his hand
Medioimages/Photodisc via Getty Images
Close-up of a male doctor sticking out his hand

The outcry against the Ontario Medical Association just got louder over the Civic Holiday long weekend.

To set the scene: two years of bitter impasse finally broke with a tentative agreement between the OMA and the Ministry of Health. Instead of open arms, the proposed contract was met with open furor by front-line doctors around the province.

Anger erupted over the inadequate funding offered by the contract. After 18 months of escalating cuts, hundreds of community physicians struggle to meet growing patient need and rising overhead costs; waitlists exploded and many specialists no longer accept new referrals until 2017. All this will worsen under a contract that caps funding well below calculated norms.

Doctors worry: will they have to ration medical services just to stay within the Liberals' irrational budget?

Marked by a disturbing lack of detail coupled with tight deadlines and severe consequences, thousands of physicians worry the contract will undermine patient care.

Tensions rose when whistleblowers revealed that checks and balances were skipped during negotiations. In the face of growing mutiny, the OMA ramped up their aggressive endorsement: ads appeared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Calls for a balanced discussion were met with threats from the OMA: "it's either the PSA [Physicians Services Agreement] or more cuts."

If the proposed contract has merit, why spend millions to market it? Shouldn't the facts speak for themselves?

At their wits' end, 3,000 doctors signed a petition forcing the OMA's hand: a General Members' Meeting was called. The last such meeting was in 1991, so this would be a historic event. One where physicians could thoughtfully debate pros and cons. One that placed the power of a binding vote to ratify or reject the controversial contract into the hands of the ordinary doctor.

On a sleepy long weekend afternoon, the OMA released details of the highly anticipated meeting as well as voting instructions. Their email confused and alarmed hundreds of physicians across Ontario.

For one, pushy pleas for a "yes" vote drowned out the time and venue of the meeting. It literally took five doctors to figure out the where and the when. The agenda was a mystery. A bigger mystery was why many physicians had not yet received the instructions, while others who were retired or no longer practicing in Ontario did. Although the meeting itself would be webcast, the voting would be in person or more archaically, by proxy.

Then the robocalls started: an automatic message telling doctors to vote "yes." The over-the-top manipulative PR tactics made many question the contract and the OMA's loyalty by extension.

Rules govern how such votes occur. The OMA's methods rigged the votes towards a "yes," seemingly breaching them all.

If the proposed contract has merit, why spend millions to market it? Shouldn't the facts speak for themselves? Above all, shouldn't physicians be allowed to judge and vote with their conscience?

Not surprisingly, a Superior Court judge ruled against the OMA, demanding that an unbiased process be immediately established.

The meeting may be postponed. Doctors are angry. The OMA's priorities are under sharp criticism. And anger is mounting at political shenanigans reminiscent of the provincial Liberals.

I have to wonder: once doctors have cleaned house, who will the Liberals find facing them from across the negotiations table?

Usually a mild-mannered profession, doctors now have whistleblowers, internecine warfare, manipulation and dissidence, robocalls and now, a backbone.

It's House of Cards meets Gray's Anatomy. It would be comical if it wasn't so damn inspiring.

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