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Failed doctor deal: Opposition calls for Alberta health minister to be fired

EDMONTON — The Alberta Opposition says the collapse of a new master agreement with doctors shows it’s time Tyler Shandro is fired as health minister. “Tyler Shandro, it’s clear, has burnt so much goodwill.
Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro removes his mask while announcing a new agreement between Alberta Health Services and a Calgary manufacturer to produce medical equipment in Calgary on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — The Alberta Opposition says the collapse of a new master agreement with doctors shows it’s time Tyler Shandro is fired as health minister.

“Tyler Shandro, it’s clear, has burnt so much goodwill. He has lost trust with physicians across this province. I do not believe he can be the one to take this forward,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said Wednesday.

“(Premier) Jason Kenney owes it to Alberta families to remove Tyler Shandro as his health minister and find someone who can repair the significant damage that he has caused.”

Steve Buick, spokesman for Shandro, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shepherd said members of the Alberta Medical Association rejected the proposed deal because of the “abusive behaviour” exhibited by Shandro and his staff over the last year.

The medical association declined to comment.

Shandro unilaterally tore up the previous agreement with doctors in early 2020, then brought in fee changes that ignited a public fight with the province's 11,000 physicians — all played out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors began withdrawing services, the medical association sued the province, and the two sides swapped angry attacks on social media.

They eventually returned to the table and hammered out a tentative agreement that was presented to doctors on Feb. 26 for a vote.

The result, released Tuesday, was 53 per cent against to 47 per cent in favour. The AMA said 59 per cent of eligible members cast ballots.

Both Shandro and AMA president Dr. Paul Boucher said in statements late Tuesday that they plan to find out why the deal failed and to work to rebuild their relationship.

Details of the failed proposal have not been made public but were obtained by The Canadian Press.

It specified that the collective baseline pay for doctors would remain static at about $4.6 billion a year over the four years of the deal. It would be retroactive to 2020 and subject to spending needed to speed up surgeries to reduce wait times.

Shandro has said fundamental changes to physician pay and work arrangements are needed to keep health care viable in the long-term.

The proposal did not make any reference to doctors being able to have access to third-party arbitration. It would have given the medical association the right to invoke non-binding mediation on key issues but, if mediation failed, the government would have final say.

Shepherd said he heard from doctors that no arbitration was a deal-breaker, because they could not accept losing it and thereby giving the final say on all disputes to Shandro.

“They do not trust this minister of health, so this agreement would give an incredible amount of control to the health minister over decisions of patient care. Doctors are fundamentally opposed to that,” said Shepherd.

The province cancelled arbitration when it threw out the master agreement last year. The AMA had cited arbitration as critical given that, for ethical reasons, doctors can't walk off the job to gain leverage at the bargaining table.

As voting wound down in the last two weeks, Shandro extended numerous olive branches to doctors, including a promise to never resurrect hotly contested changes to patient billing rules.

Shandro also issued a public letter to all doctors saying he regretted downplaying their frustrations and anger.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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