AMA using 'empty tactics' by publishing newspaper ads, health minister says

·3 min read
AMA using 'empty tactics' by publishing newspaper ads, health minister says

Health Minster Tyler Shandro on Wednesday dismissed advertisements placed by the Alberta Medical Association in the province's newspapers as a meaningless negotiating tactic.

The AMA advertisement lays out what physicians are proposing and asked Shandro "to take yes for an answer" for "the good of Albertans."

Shandro told the AMA to stop playing games, and to start taking Alberta's financial situation seriously.

"The AMA has to stop these empty tactics and talk to us," Shandro said on Thursday in question period. "They know what an offer looks like. It doesn't look like a newspaper ad."

Dr. Christine Molnar, president of the AMA, disputed Shandro's statements that the AMA has not made a serious effort to contain health-care costs.

Molnar said the AMA has submitted four proposals to the government since January.

The latest proposal, sent July 1, caps physician compensation at what the government wants for three years, she said. Doctors will voluntarily take fee decreases if spending goes over that amount.

"Minister Shandro, we have said yes to your requirements, I believe it is now your turn," Molnar said.

"And believe me, there are no games here. This is a serious offer that we fully plan and intend to carry through with."

The ad is the latest salvo in a months-long battle between Shandro and the AMA. Relations between the two sides have deteriorated since the minister unilaterally ended the master agreement and imposed a new compensation framework in February.

Shandro said in question period that the government talked to the AMA about the July 1 proposal only to learn the group had "a bunch of preconditions for us to even start negotiating with them."

In addition to a compensation cap, the AMA wants the government to fund any additional doctors recruited to the province, something the AMA says it can't control.

The proposal also includes a request for the government to continue funding paternity and maternity leaves, as well as the physician health program.

The AMA also wants the government to agree to binding arbitration if a deal cannot be reached through other means. Doctors are not allowed to go on strike.

"We've given them everything they wanted, so why would they turn this down," said Sean Smith, the AMA's senior staff lead for negotiations.

Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney have said Alberta doctors are the best paid in Canada, but Molnar said that isn't true and money isn't the main issue in this dispute.

"Doctors are not looking to be paid more," she said. "Our issues are about the way we have been treated. We have not been treated with respect or value. We're treated like we're the problem to be solved."

The AMA released a survey last week that suggested 42 per cent of the 1,740 doctors who responded are thinking about leaving Alberta.

Shandro has criticized the accuracy of the survey. But the AMA said it stands by the results.