A sad day for Ontario doctors, patients

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Money and power fuel Tea Party-style takeover of doctors’ union
Feb. 9, 2017.   By BOB HEPBURN, Politics

The Ontario Medical Association is in total disarray after the dramatic resignation this week of its entire executive team — and that’s bad news for patients.

The mass resignation has left the union, which represents Ontario’s 34,000 doctors and medical students, with its biggest internal crisis in more than 30 years and with no president or president-elect.

Worse, it has opened the door wide to a radical Tea Party-style takeover of the OMA that sees doctors fighting doctors, increased moves to defeat the Wynne government in the 2018 election and more power for Conservative party operatives within the organization.

For patients, this could mean big trouble.

That’s because a radicalized OMA is expected to step up threats of job actions by doctors, such as reduced office hours or rotating shutdowns of hospital emergency departments, as they push for a new wage contract with Queen’s Park.

“This is a sad day,” Dr. Richard Reznick, dean of the faculty of health sciences at Queen’s University, wrote in an online blog after the executives quit Monday, just a week following a non-confidence vote by the OMA’s governing council. “What has transpired cannot be good for the profession,” Reznick added.

The OMA infighting stems from the union’s failure to secure a wage agreement with the Liberal government. The last contract expired three years ago. Last summer OMA members soundly rejected a tentative deal backed by the OMA executive team.

For more than a year, radicals within the OMA have worked openly to oust the executive team, which they decried as ineffective.

Two weeks ago, the OMA’s 260-member governing council voted 55 per cent in favour of a non-confidence motion in the executive, but failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to oust the six-member executive team.

The dissidents, many of whom support private two-tier medicine, argue their real motivation isn’t more pay for themselves. Rather, they claim they are advocating on behalf of patients who are suffering because the Liberals “are driving health care into the ground.”

Few people are buying that argument, though. One of those is Bob Rae, the former Ontario NDP premier, who tweeted this week that the “OMA is a union fighting for higher incomes for docs. Period.”

Another driving force for the dissidents is their desire to defeat the Wynne government in the next election. Social media postings make it clear they are targeting Health Minister Eric Hoskins in particular while praising Conservative leader Patrick Brown.

Conservative operatives have also been advising the dissident groups in recent months, with at least one organizer angling for a top OMA job. Meanwhile, Joanne McNamara, a former deputy chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, starts work in March as the OMA’s head of advocacy and public affairs.

Already the OMA is getting mobilized for the 2018 election. With a slogan of “No Safe Seats,” the union will launch a highly organized campaign in all 124 ridings with the goal of making health care a top election issue.

What’s next for the OMA?

First, members will vote between Feb. 15 and March 7 to elect the 260-member council, which serves a one-year term. Hardline members are already lined up as candidates for these spots. The council will elect the new president and president-elect.

Second, the new OMA executive will try to reopen negotiations with Queen’s Park on a wage deal. These talks will almost surely collapse, primarily because Hoskins refuses to agree to binding arbitration as a precondition for the talks to resume. The dissidents have made that a prerequisite for any negotiations.

Third, once the talks fail, the radicalized OMA could then launch job actions.

Such a move could prove disastrous for the doctors, many of whom are too young to remember the 1986 strike over extra-billing that seriously damaged their reputation. Some doctors closed their offices for two days, held a massive rally at Queen’s Park, closed emergency wards in Toronto and shut down the Newmarket hospital for an entire day.

Instead of siding with the doctors, though, patients showed little sympathy for them, eyeing them as being greedy rather than physicians who cared about their patients first. The strike petered out after 25 days.

The best hope for patients in the coming months is that OMA moderates will manage to hold some sway within the organization.

As Reznick, the Queen’s University dean, says, “if leadership emanates from groups that hold extreme views, at this juncture in time, the medical profession will take a great step backwards.”

Calm, moderate views are needed right now, he adds.

Given the success the hardliners have enjoyed in driving the executive team out of office, calm and moderate may be the last thing patients see from the embattled OMA for a long time.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/02/09/a-sad-day-for-ontario-doctors-patients-hepburn.html

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