Ontario doctors delay vote on four-year deal

Having postponed ratification, disgruntled physicians will now get a direct vote on the deal.

Doctors unhappy with a proposed new fee agreement between the Ontario Medical Association and the province have forced a delay in ratification, and will now get a direct vote on the deal.

The four-year agreement signed July 11 would increase Ontario's $11.5-billion physician services budget by 2.5 per cent a year, to $12.9 billion by 2020.

A non-binding vote by doctors across the province was scheduled to take place before an Aug. 6 meeting of the OMA's 275-member governing council.

The council would then have taken the results of the vote under advisement as it decided whether to accept the new physician services agreement or reject it.

But by Monday, 3,000 physicians had signed a petition put forward by opponents of the deal, including the group called Concerned Ontario Doctors, which held a protest march in Toronto last Friday to denounce the fee agreement.

The petition said physicians were facing unreasonably tight deadlines: two weeks to analyze the contract, one week for a province-wide vote and one day for OMA council members to meet, debate the contract and vote to ratify it or not.

``All communication by the OMA has aggressively endorsed the proposed contract, (but) they have not provided any material analyzing the down sides,'' it read.

``Members as such are asked to vote yes or no to a six-page contract that is devoid of necessary detail.''

The OMA agreed to call off the referendum and instead hold a full membership meeting to discuss the agreement, with a vote by all doctors present that will be binding on the association.

``In simple terms, this means that the vote that will occur as part of the general meeting will provide a binding decision by OMA members on the tentative PSA,'' OMA president Dr. Virginia Walley said Monday in a statement.

The last time the OMA held a meeting of the 29,000 physicians it represents was in the 1980s, when Maple Leaf Gardens was rented for the event.

``Physicians wait with baited breath to see the outcome of such an extraordinary request: a membership meeting to get to the bottom of the truth about this particular PSA,'' said Dr. Kulvinder Gill of Concerned Ontario Doctors.

``Seen rarely in business corporate structures, general membership meetings can herald a coup.''

Concerned Ontario Doctors and others groups within the OMA said funding under the new deal is not adequate to meet growing demands or to keep operating rooms and expensive diagnostic equipment from sitting idle some of the time.

They were also angry that the OMA dropped a demand for binding arbitration after going two years without an agreement, and after seeing the Liberal government unilaterally impose fee cuts for some services.

Walley said the government refused to budge on binding arbitration, so the OMA agreed to the tentative deal to avoid any further fee cuts while it fights in court for arbitration in future fee disputes.

``It was and remains clear that the tentative PSA will provide our members with much-needed stability and predictability, and will ensure doctors and the OMA have direct involvement in decisions about physician services,'' she said.

``That is in stark contrast to continued unilateral action and cuts to funding for physician services.''

The OMA cancelled the Aug. 6 council meeting and said it does not yet have a date and time for the general meeting of doctors, which will include their vote on the new fee agreement.
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