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Monday, June 22, 2009

New Brunswick breaks deal with doctors

The New Brunswick government followed through on Health Minister Mike Murphy's (left) threats and, last Thursday, passed Bill 93, effectively eliminating the wage increases the province's physicians had been promised in negotiations last year. [Bill 93, New Brunswick Legislative Assembly (PDF)]

The New Brunswick Medical Society's reaction was -- not surprisingly -- one of disappointment but not surprise. Society president Dr Ludget Blier (right) issued a statement condemning the government and making clear that physicians don't intend to take this provocation lightly. In other words: you'll be hearing from their lawyers, Mr Murphy. Dr Blier's statement is so strongly worded that it's worth reading in full:

If there was any remaining doubt about the level of respect that the Shawn Graham government has for New Brunswick doctors, it was wiped out on June 18, 2009 with the third reading of Bill 93. This historic piece of legislation will render a duly negotiated and ratified agreement to be "null and void", and will attempt to block any efforts to challenge that decree.

The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, Dr. Ludger Blier, says that it is difficult to find words that are strong enough to express how he and his fellow physicians feel about how they have been treated over the past eighteen months or more. "Used and abused are words that come to mind", says Dr. Blier. "We spent many days, weeks and months across the negotiating table from government representatives before finally signing off, page by page, on the terms for new agreements. We placed those terms in front of our membership for a vote, with a recommendation that they accept them. Our membership respected the results of the negotiations process. Government did not."

Dr. Blier underlined once again that the decision to single out physicians and walk away from signed agreements was enough to seriously damage the relationship between physicians and the Graham government. The way that the Government chose to do that has reinforced the conclusion reached by the doctors, that the only remaining avenue for efforts to salvage the agreements is through the courts.

"We met with the Premier on March 11th at which time he told us that we had choices about how to participate in the government's restraint policy and that the 'negotiating process would be respected' if that was our choice. The Premier subsequently said that we misunderstood and were never given a choice." Dr. Blier points to a document that was given to the Premier on March 19th and letters that were sent to government on April 6th and April 23rd, as evidence of the Society's contention that there was a choice.

"The Premier has invited physicians to return to the negotiating table but only if we agree in advance that the government's policy of two years of "0" would be up front", says Dr. Blier. "Is that a true negotiation, or an attempt to bring some legitimacy to unacceptable behaviour?"

Dr. Blier says that the Medical Society will continue to pursue what legal options are open to physicians to protect the duly negotiated agreements.
For more on the ongoing battle between the government of New Brunswick and the province's doctors, read Canadian Medicine's previous coverage of doctors' threats to strike and campaign against the Liberals and our coverage of the recession-induced origins of the government's decision to rescind its offer of raises to the doctors.

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