Ontario's doctors have voted in favour of a tentative deal that would send contract disputes with the provincial government to binding arbitration.

The vote on Saturday was 65 per cent to 35 per cent in favour of the binding interest arbitration framework. Members voted electronically, in person at the Ontario Medical Association's general meeting of members in Toronto and by proxy.

The doctors have been without a physician services agreement for three years.

"After 3 years of unprecedented fee cuts and unilateral government action, this agreement now provides for a fair, independent process," Dr. Shawn Whatley, OMA president, said in a news release on Saturday.

"I commend our members for taking the time to understand the agreement. Now Ontario's doctors can finally look to establishing a new, fair and respectful relationship with the government." 

Whatley said the OMA, now that it has made this decision, will continue to consult with physicians to develop its mandate for negotiations.

Seven other provinces and the Northwest Territories set physician compensation through a binding arbitration process, but the Ontario government had rejected the doctors' demand until reversing course earlier this year.
The OMA, which comprises more than 42,000 physicians and medical students, reached the tentative deal on a binding interest arbitration framework last month.

 The Liberal government has angered doctors by imposing fee cuts for some services and clawing back their pay. 

The result of Saturday's vote "prevents the government from taking further unilateral actions," said Whatley in an interview with CBC Toronto. "Right in the binding arbitration framework, it says that the government needs to work with doctors to find a solution."

If no solution can be found, Whatley said, the disputed issue would go to a neutral third party.  

"In the past, if there wasn't a solution, the government just went ahead and did what it thought it needed to do." 

Whatley stressed the importance of a "constructive working relationship" between doctors and the Ontario government, which he said requires a balance of power. 

"A lot of people think negotiations are all about fees and money. That's not true," he said. "Negotiations are the way we fix patient care problems in Ontario."

Whatley referenced such problems as access to community health resources for elderly patients, determining evening hours, and the availability of some medical procedures. 

"That's why it's been so terrible to go without a contract — all those patient care problems just pile up."

Whatley said negotiations will resume no later than September 1.

With files from The Canadian Press