November 1, 2016
Aaron Derfel, Montreal Gazette
October 31, 2016 7:28 PM EDT
Health Minister Gaétan Barrette announced Monday that he will order a “productivity study” for Quebec doctors in the face of an impasse in negotiations over their pay.
Barrette argued that such a study makes sense given there are more doctors per capita in Quebec than in any other province in the country.
Barrette said that Quebec can’t afford to keep raising doctors’ salaries under a previous agreement, warning that at the rate they’re going up they will exceed the Canadian average in a few years’ time. It’s in that context that the government wants to renegotiate their raises, he told reporters at a news conference in Montreal following an early-morning meeting with the province’s two medical federations.
“I can understand a certain disappointment (on the part of doctors), and that is why I am appealing to their social conscience and to common sense,” Barrette said.
The minister produced a chart showing that Quebec doctors have “caught up,” more or less with their Ontario counterparts. Government spending on Quebec doctors’ salaries now represents $875 per capita, compared with a rate of $970 in Ontario —a difference of 10.9 per cent, according to the chart.
The pay gap between doctors in Quebec and Ontario can be explained by Ontario’s higher cost of living, Barrette added.
Barrette’s morning news conference was the first salvo in what quickly turned into a battle of words between the government and the doctors’ federations.
Diane Francoeur, president of the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (FMSQ), accused Barrette of failing to honour his signature on agreements signed with the doctors’ groups.
“He met with the medical federations barely 90 minutes before the press conference (Monday) to ‘initiate discussions’ after an expired agreement of March 2015,” Francoeur said in a statement.
“He announced in advance the results of negotiations that have not yet begun. Should we anticipate once these negotiations are over that the government will be eager to open an agreement again, whatever the excuse? Again, he may not honour his signature.”
Barrette declined to specify what kind of raise the government might be willing to offer the doctors, but he pointed out that Alberta’s physicians have received annual raises of 1.5 per cent.
(Before being elected to the National Assembly in 2014, Barrette served as the head of the FMSQ, concluding agreements with the government that included a series of raises for the medical specialists. The FMSQ negotiates on behalf of 10,000 specialists across the province.)
Meanwhile, the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec, representing 8,800 general practitioners, criticized Barrette of minimizing the pay gap between Quebec and Ontario doctors. Dr. Louis Godin, president of the FMOQ, said the gap is greater than 10.9 per cent, but he did not provide any figures.
“Quebec’s family doctors have always acted in a responsible manner, and their federation will do so as well in any future negotiations,” Godin said in a statement. “Having said that, we expect that the government will do the same. And that begins by respecting the actual agreements in force and negotiated in good faith between both parties in 2011 and in 2014.”
In Quebec City, Parti Québécois health critic Diane Lamarre blasted Barrette for always being “focused on money, money, money” rather than on patient care.