Ontario Premier Doug Ford approaches most issues like he’s driving a Sherman tank, but he has hit a nasty landmine left behind by the previous Liberal government. The long-running pay dispute with Ontario doctors has no easy resolution, and its outcome will have a significant effect on the government’s attempts to balance its books.
When Ford took office, there was cautious optimism that his government would be able to get a deal with the doctors. The previous government tried to bully docs into taking a deal by cutting their fees and launching misleading attacks on their earnings. No surprise, that didn’t work. Now Ford has inherited the problem.
The PC government made a new contract offer, but it wasn’t good enough for the Ontario Medical Association, so now talks are off and the issue is heading to arbitration later this month. That’s not good for the government. If Ford didn’t like it when a judge tried to stop him from shrinking the size of Toronto city council, he’s really not going to be happy when an arbitrator makes a decision that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. With a $12-billion budget for physician costs, even a one-per-cent raise would cost $120 million — and doctors want far more than that.
To get a deal, the government says it has made an offer that is much better than the 2.6 per cent over four years the Liberals offered. A government source close to the negotiations says the offer consists of a five-per-cent raise in the first year, followed by three years of 3.15 per cent raises. The first year’s increase includes a $715 million signing bonus. The government is also looking for $240 million in cost efficiencies over two years, with half of that going to the OMA and half to the government. Anything above the $240 million would go straight to the doctors. That offer sounds substantial, but the same source said the docs want 6.8 per cent annually for four years, and that the two sides are $4.7 billion apart over the four-year term of the deal.