Doctors agree to return to table

The Canadian Press

TORONTO–Ontario’s doctors, who have been without a physician services agreement for four years, say they have agreed to return to the bargaining table after the incoming Progressive Conservative government reached out to them.
The Ontario Medical Association, which has about 44,000 members, said days that were scheduled for arbitration in July now will be used for negotiation and possibly mediation.
The association said each side still has the option to re-trigger arbitration but noted the move–which it characterized as an olive branch–is a welcome change in the tone of discussions surrounding the physician services agreement.
“Everyone is feeling cautiously hopeful–I say cautiously because we’ve been burned by government in the past,” said Dr. Nadia Alam, president of the Ontario Medical Association.
“We’ve seen . . . strong signals from the new government that suggests that they want a different kind of relationship [with doctors] so it makes us hopeful, not just about getting a good contract for physicians but actually working on the very real problems in our health-care system,” she added.
In a message to its members, the OMA said the Tories, who were elected to a majority earlier this month, would be open to revisiting the negotiations mandate set by the outgoing Liberals.
The document lays out a party’s objectives and parameters for an agreement.
“That’s a huge step because it means that their vision of what a good deal with doctors looks like is going to be different from what the previous government’s was,” Alam said.
Forging ahead with arbitration would have run the risk of pushing the incoming government into adopting the position held by its predecessors, she noted.
The association won’t change its position, however, and the possibility of a negotiated settlement depends on how much the new government is willing to budge, Alam warned.