Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews
Credits: ANTONELLA ARTUSO/QMI AGENCY
The Ontario Medical Association is launching a legal challenge, alleging the threatening and undermining negotiating style of the Dalton McGuinty government violates the doctors' charter right to freedom of association.
The doctors are asking the courts to order the McGuinty government to conduct "meaningful" negotiations and to throw out cuts to doctor fees imposed through regulation.
"The government really left us no choice," OMA President Dr. Doug Weir said Monday. "We've tried to get back to the table with them on a number of times. They have consistently refused to meet with a conciliator.
"We ... still want to get back to the table; there's nothing in this to stop that from happening tomorrow if the government wants to."
Health Minister Deb Matthews said the recent deal reached with the Ontario Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) is proof that it's possible to settle a compensation dispute in tough fiscal times.
"I am disappointed that the OMA has chosen this route, as opposed to doing what Ontarians expect of us - working together in a boardroom, not a courtroom," Matthews said.
The Ontario government has told the OMA that it is freezing the overall budget for doctor compensation for two years, but is willing to negotiate within that funding envelope.
The OMA says that with increased patient use and new doctors entering the field, physicians are being asked to absorb more than $1 billion in additional health-care costs.
Weir said the doctors have never had to pursue the legal route before but felt they had no choice when the government tried to go around the association.
"The charter is there to protect citizens, including associations like the Ontario Medical Association, from governments acting too heavy-handedly, and that's what's been happening," he said.
Weir said the OMA will not deny services to patients to make its point.