Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is now using a demand from province's doctors — for what he says is an unaffordable 55 per cent pay increase — to justify legislation capping public sector wages.
The premier's claim was denied by Doctors Nova Scotia, which has been negotiating a new contract on behalf of 2,500 physicians since May.
"We are disappointed, not only they started to talk outside the negotiating process, but their information is inaccurate and misleading," Doctors Nova Scotia CEO Nancy MacCready-Williams said Thursday.
MacCready-Williams declined to correct the record and reveal specifics of the doctors' demands.
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The Liberals have proposed Bill 148 to limit wage increases to three per cent over four years with an initial two-year wage freeze, which they've been pushing through in an around-the-clock marathon this week.
McNeil said the legislation is needed to protect taxpayers because doctors were about to take their demands to arbitration.
"They were, in our view, about to trigger arbitration and in Nova Scotia the employer doesn't win arbitration," McNeil said.
"Every arbitration has caused the wage envelope in this province to balloon at a rate the system just can't handle it."
But MacCready-Williams said doctors have never used arbitration in the past, nor have they indicated they would this time.
"At no point has anybody threatened to step away from the table," she said.
Doctor leadership 'aggressive'
The Liberal government released details Thursday of what it says were demands by Doctors Nova Scotia. He said the ask would see Nova Scotia doctors paid 10 per cent above the national average and cost $1 billion.
McNeil also accused an "aggressive" leadership of Doctors Nova Scotia of not telling doctors what they were demanding at the table.
"This is the doctors union quite frankly acting very differently at the table than what they are telling their membership," McNeil said.
"It became clear to us, as we were talking to doctors, that they believed everything was going on fine at the bargaining table, when in actual fact that wasn't the case," he said. "Our story wasn't being told."
Doctor feels 'disrespected' by McNeil
He also said the group is sitting on $4.7 million from the provincial government, intended to pay benefits to doctors, but which is instead collecting interest.
The calculation to lump physicians with other public sector workers frequently singled out by the government has angered doctors around the province.
"Sad to know @nsgov is trying to perpetuate the stereotype of the greedy doctor," Musquodoboit Harbour physician Lisa Bonang tweeted Thursday. "Feeling disrespected."
McNeil denies that charge.
"This by no way is suggesting doctors in this province are greedy or don't want to be part of the solution," McNeil said.
MacCready-Williams said the release of bargaining details was a breach.
"What it does is send a message about trustworthiness. We said we wouldn't do the very thing that happened last night," she said.
"I could come out with both barrels blazing or I could say enough of that — enough of those antics. Let's get back to the bargaining table. Stop looking for a sensational story."
Doctors Nova Scotia, by the numbers:
- 2008 to 2015 — The time period for the last payment agreement between doctors and the Nova Scotia government.
- 382 — Number of people in Nova Scotia per physician. The province has the most phsycians per capita in Canada
- 4 — Per cent of annual wage increases for 2013-14 and 2014-15
- $318K — Average billings per physician
- $251K — Average billings per general physician
- 35 — Per cent of physician cost increases between 2003 and 2013.
(Source: Doctors Nova Scotia Economic Forecast 2014)