THUNDER BAY – Doctor Doug Weir is the President of the Ontario Medical Association. Dr. Weir states, “Here in Canada, everyone is afforded protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This includes doctors. It’s deeply disappointing that the government has devalued the role of physicians to the point where we are forced to take such a drastic step.”
“While other provincial governments are working collaboratively with their physicians, the McGuinty government continues to choose politics over patients. I really believed that in the interest of patient-care the government would want to get back to the table and negotiate fairly. But clearly the government has no intention of bargaining in good faith with Ontario’s doctors. Their stubbornness will have a negative impact on patient care and puts at risk our ability to recruit and retain physicians in Ontario.”
Following months of unfair bargaining, threats to representation rights, unilateral cuts to fees, and negotiating in bad faith, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) announced Tuesday that it is applying to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for a review of the government’s negotiation tactics and unilateral imposition of cuts to fees and programs on the doctors of Ontario.
During the two months the government and OMA were in negotiations, the government refused to engage in any meaningful discussions until the OMA first agreed to accept $1.1 billion in net funding cuts. It is the position of the OMA that the government has not negotiated in good faith. The OMA will ask the court to:
Decide that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to Ontario physicians;
Review the government’s bargaining tactics in these negotiations and direct them to bargain in good faith; and
Reverse the government’s $340 million in unilateral fee cuts that were imposed, not in accordance with the requirements of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires governments to negotiate in good faith as a precondition to taking unilateral action such as cutting fees.
The government has repeatedly rejected several offers put forward by the OMA, including a two year freeze on fees and to find $250 million in savings (the equivalent of a 2.5% fee cut to physicians in Ontario). The government has also refused the OMA’s request to bring a third party conciliator to ensure fairness in negotiations. Conciliation is one of the recommended mechanisms to resolve disputes in the Canada Health Act. The government’s decision to proceed unilaterally and cut programs and fees, and continued resistance to negotiate fairly and bring a conciliator left the OMA with no choice but to ask the court to step in and proceed with a Charter challenge.
The OMA pointed to a landmark case in British Columbia where the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the right to freedom of association included the right to bargain collectively.
“Doctors remain available to work with the province to achieve savings in health care, but we won’t do it without an assurance that there will be a fair process that considers our input. Doctors right across the province are extremely concerned about what cuts are coming next, and the total disregard for due process shown by the government,” concludes Weir.