Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins insists that the strife between physicians and government is all about paycheques.
Yes, physician compensation is one of the issues. But it's not the most important one. And it's definitely not the reason why after a year of tough negotiating, the Ontario Medical Association rejected Minister Hoskins' "reasonable" offer.
Negotiations between the physicians and the Ontario Liberals collapsed in January 2015. Since then, in an unprecedented dramatization of "absolute power corrupts absolutely," the provincial government has gone ahead and unilaterally imposed their contract terms without consent onto Ontario physicians. With no regard for logic or reasoning, they have enforced three rounds of sweeping fee cuts first in February, then June and now in October. Although this is not the first such transgression, this is the worst.
Physicians have agreed to none of the cuts. But they are forced to stomach them.
However, physician compensation is just the tip of the iceberg.
Evaluating it more critically, it's clear the Wynne government is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Although provincial economists have forecast an annual increase of 2.7 per cent in healthcare expenses due to aging and population growth, the province has agreed to fund only 1.25 per cent, barely half the projected cost. In effect, the government is saying: "Dear Ontarians, say you need $100 more to continue making OHIP universally accessible and universally effective this year. Even though your government has promised to fully fund your healthcare system, let's give you $46.30 instead and call it even."
The arbitrary fee cuts imposed upon Ontario physicians are expected to make up the inevitable shortfall.
Should there be a sudden hike in healthcare demand -- from outbreak, natural disaster, or a refugee immigration crisis -- the costs will be recouped directly from Ontario physicians over the next two years. It's a policy ominously named the "clawback" or "reconciliation." Might as well ask teachers to bankroll the education budget.
This faulty logic was -- and still is -- the major reason why the OMA originally said no to the government. The story gets worse, though.
Healthcare funding relies on two sources: provincial taxes and the Canada Health Transfer, which is federal cash given to each province for health-care. In fact, the federal government gave 3.1 per cent more to Ontario in 2014-2015. Yet, rather than applying the entire amount, the Ontario Liberals allotted only a portion of the Canada Health Transfer to Ontario's healthcare system.
Where is the rest? It's not in physicians' pockets, nor is it in our hospitals or nursing homes. Every time the Liberals are questioned about the missing amount, they choose to divert attention onto physician paycheques instead.
As doctors in Ontario take down their shingles and close practices, Health Minister Eric Hoskins continues to reassure the public that all is business as usual. However, the Liberal legacy will be a mass exodus of physicians fleeing from the hostile work conditions in Ontario into the friendlier arms of neighbouring provinces -- all of which have collaborated with their own physicians to reach proper agreements.
For the physicians who remain in Ontario, they will do what any small business does when income drops precipitously: they will cut costs and dismiss administrative and nursing staff. Unemployment will rise.
Patients will suffer longer wait times, lack of accessibility and office inefficiencies. The insidious effects of chronically under-funding the healthcare system will not be felt this year, but will become more pronounced as money runs out.
Finally, Ontario's physicians will burn out serving under such an oppressive regime.
One wonders why the Ontario Liberals are so openly abusing the right of their physicians to fair bargaining. After all, Wynne's government did give their teachers a raise. Ditto for their home-care nurses, their police and the Hydro One workers.
Ontario physicians never even requested a raise, they wanted a pay freeze. So, why punish them? Because physicians make easy targets. For one, they are wholly dependent on the province for their livelihood. If the province chooses not to pay and refuses to negotiate, there is no recourse because physicians do not have the right to strike. Look at Quebec: physicians went on strike for 24 hours and were slapped with a $2-million dollar lawsuit, and that was better than the original $10-million figure.
So, all we can do is speak up.
Hoskins is right about one thing: nine months later, the patients have not yet suffered -- largely because our fight is with the Ontario government, not with our patients.
This is a story about a provincial government that bullies people who cannot fight back, that mishandles taxpayer money and that has abandoned its duty to fund healthcare. Ontario's healthcare system is about to collapse under Liberal rule.
This is a story of David and Goliath. Although this time, I fear that David may just lay down his sword and walk away.
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