‘Ottawa’ Ontario Medical Association’s Embattled Leadership Steps Down
Ontario doctors battling the province over fee cuts will do so absent the leadership many of them say has failed to look out for their interests.
The board of directors of the Ontario Medical Association, which represents about 42,000 doctors, said Monday its executive committee, including embattled president Dr. Virginia Walley, had resigned, effective immediately.
The board said the resignations were “in the best interests of the OMA” and followed a recent special meeting of the OMA’s council, whose members had earlier passed a motion of non-confidence in the execute committee’s leadership. However, the motion lacked the 60 per cent majority OMA bylaws require to force the executive committee’s ouster, and the executives, including Walley, said afterward they would stay on.
Walley claimed the association council had “affirmed their confidence in the elected leaders of the Ontario Medical Association.”
However, a counter statement from the Coalition of Ontario Doctors said the vote “further erodes an already abysmal level of confidence that doctors have in the credibility of the OMA’s current leaders, who have repeatedly refused to step down.”
The underlying fight is over attempts by the Ministry of Health to get more medical care out of a restricted budget. It has unilaterally cut doctors’ pay several times in the past few years and has been on a particular campaign to reduce the fees doctors can charge for certain procedures that new technology has made easier and faster (and more lucrative).
In bargaining for a new Physician Services Agreement, basically Ontario doctors’ collective contract, the province has offered money for more doctors but not raises for ones already working, even to keep pace with inflation.
Ontario doctors collectively bill the province about $11 billion a year, making them the biggest line-item in the government’s biggest ministry.
Last spring, while negotiations were supposedly on a break, the executive secretly did a deal with the ministry’s bargainers and announced it as a fait accompli. It limited doctors’ billings but gave their representatives a say in how caps would be applied.
It did not guarantee binding arbitration to settle future disputes, which the association had set as a precondition for negotiating and which providers of essential services have. The OMA’s leaders said they expected the courts would eventually order it for doctors, anyway.
Dissident doctors forced a general membership meeting in the summer to vote on the deal, with a pair of radiologists challenging in court the very plans for the meeting. They accused the OMA’s leaders of trying to rig the vote by giving out skewed proxy forms for doctors who couldn’t be at the meeting to express their preferences. The forms pushed members toward what the executive wanted, alleged the challengers.
A Superior Court judge agreed and forced the executive to rewrite the forms, and in the end the doctors rejected the secretly negotiated deal.
In its statement on Monday, the OMA’s board said the association “can now refocus on mounting a strong and united front against a government that is intransigent in its approach to health care and disrespectful of physicians and the role we need to play in health care reform.”
The directors also said Walley and the rest of the executive committee would remain on the board.
An OMA spokeswoman said Monday evening that it wasn’t yet decided when the board would convene to elect a new six-member executive. The president elect and president are elected by the OMA’s council.
With files from David Reevely