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Ford government move to bail on binding arbitration with doctors ‘affront to the law,’ OMA says

CBC News with Muneeza Sheikh 11 December 2018

The government of Premier Doug Ford has pulled out of binding arbitration with the association representing the province’s physicians, according to documents obtained by CBC Toronto, citing a “lack of confidence” in the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).

The government informed the OMA of its decision on Monday.

Lawyers representing the OMA say the move is “unprecedented [and] an affront to the rule of law,” in a letter obtained by CBC Toronto.  

Government lawyers argued the province cannot proceed in negotiating with the OMA when there is “public dispute in the profession about whether the OMA is the exclusive representation of physicians in Ontario.”

In a November vote, eight units of the OMA voted to leave and join the Ontario Specialists Association. Those who voted to leave represent 10 per cent of specialists in the province, and 5 per cent of the association’s membership.

Many of those who voted to leave were subjected to cuts in the fees they can charge to the government for services. 

‘An abuse of provisional power’: labour lawyer

Labour lawyer Muneeza Sheikh with Levitt LLP says the argument by the province is “completely absurd” and “and an abuse of provisional power.

“Under the Arbitration Act, there’s a legal obligation to continue within this process and one party, cannot simply even if you’re the provincial government pull the plug unilaterally,” she told CBC Toronto.

The government’s argument that internal labour politics within the OMA disqualifies the entire arbitration process “makes no sense,” Sheikh said.

“It is truly setting a dangerous precedent,” she added.

Should the province not return to arbitration meetings scheduled for Dec.15, Sheikh says the OMA has multiple legal options, including launching a legal challenge claiming the government is violating the Arbitration Act, or suing for breach of contract over the 2017 deal with the province that set the framework for bargaining. 

‘Will send a chill through labour’: OPSEU president

When reached for comment Tuesday night, OPSEU president Smokey Thomas was shocked. 

“I’ve actually asked my lawyers … to look at this,” he said in a telephone interview.

“I honestly don’t see how they can do this,” he added.

“This is unheard of in Ontario.”

OPSEU is currently in arbitration with its correctional bargaining unit and the province. 

“They got no right messing around in internal politics [of the OMA],” Thomas added.

No one from the premier’s office or the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care responded to initial requests by CBC Toronto for comment.