Wednesday , January 27 2021

The province goes beyond arbitration with the medical association in Ontario

The Provincial Government has withdrawn the reinforcement at the Ontario Medical Association, saying it has lost confidence in the organization's ability to represent its members after some high-qualified specialists voted to withdraw.

But OMA is still planning to take part in this process and argues that provincial law allows arbitration to continue even if one party expires.

The Ford government sent a letter to arbiter William Kaplan on Monday evening, stating that
The Ford government sent a letter to arbitrator William Kaplan on Monday evening, stating that "there is no confidence that OMA can fulfill the outcome of any arbitration decision." (Rene Johnston / Toronto star)

OMO accuses the government of violating a legal agreement on a "binding arbitrage framework" signed by both parties last year. The majority of OMA members also voted in favor of the process.

Development is the latest in what is a stormy, almost five-year dispute over a new tax treaty.

It comes two weeks after a group of high-quality specialists – faced with the prospect of cuts in fees – voted to separate from OMA. The group, called OSA, wrote to Minister of Health Kristin Eliot on November 30, demanding that the arbitration be "immediately terminated while OSA specialist groups are drawn".

The letter, a copy of which was received by the star, was signed by the radiologist Dr. David Jacobs, who led the division. He is Deputy Chairman of the Ontario Ranch Association and a bright supporter of Prime Minister Doug Ford.

The government's negotiating team sent a letter to arbiter William Kaplan on Monday evening, saying "there is not enough confidence that OMA can deliver the outcome of any arbitration decision."

The letter, which was also received by the star, goes on: "Therefore, the (Ministry of Health) can not agree to the continuation of the arbitration procedure."

But the subsequent letter to Kaplan, the one from OMA, quotes the Arbitration Act, which states that arbitration should continue even if one party does not appear unless a "satisfactory explanation" is provided.

"Our view is that the hearings should continue as scheduled," says the letter signed by lawyers Howard Goldlat and Stephen Barrett, who represent the OMM in the proceedings.

"The government's proposal that it can unilaterally end this production is unprecedented and undermines the rule of law … which insists that the government is not above the law and must comply with its legal and contractual commitments," he says.

The letter argues that the arbitrator should not comply with the government's "unjustified and totally wrong" proposal that OMA is not in a position to implement the outcome of the arbitration award.

The letter ends with the following: "We suppose that (the government) and its council are aware of the potential consequences of their absence."

It is not clear what the consequences will be.

The press and secretaries of Ford and Elliott did not respond to the numerous questions contained in the e-mails of the Star on Tuesday.

More than a week ago, the Star asked the government to recognize the cut-off group. The entire government would say that it was looking for legal advice.

Late Tuesday, the OMA leadership issued a statement to 31,000 members of the organization, calling the government's move "shocking" and accusing it of "undermining OMA's legitimate right to represent Ontario doctors."

"The Prime Minister's promises include a fair treatment of doctors, the termination of the arbitration process … does not serve the interests of doctors or the 13.7 million patients we serve," the statement said, which was signed by the president of the OAO Dr. Nadia Alam, Board Chairman Tim Nicholas and Chief Executive Officer Alan O'Det.

"We know that this will be irritating to members, but we are moving fast to manage the situation," he said, noting that the OMA board and its legal council are planning to discuss the next steps on Wednesday.

At the height of the letter, Craig Ricks, a lawyer representing the government, wrote to the UMO on Tuesday to say that the province wants to "have a wider dialogue" with doctors to deal with the problems of representation and compensation and will be in connection with the new year.

Experts who voted to separate from OMA represent 10% of all physicians and approximately 17% of those billed.

Goblatt and Hicks wrote back, challenging the results of the vote – and many others – and accusing less than 5% of the profession of voting in favor of the OMO split.

Bets are high in the dispute. The government pays doctors more than $ 12 billion, or 10 percent of the entire provincial budget.

Achieving a new contract is also important because it has a huge impact on the way the service is delivered.

Arbitration hearings began before the June elections. They were already released once, within a few days after the Conservatives' victory, because the new government wanted to try to reach an agreed settlement. But the talks between the new government and OMA collapsed in early October, prompting the dispute to return to arbitration.

Arbitration hearings were resumed on Saturday and ended before Christmas.

Theresa Boyle is a Toronto-based reporter covering health. Follow her on Twitter: @theresaboyle

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