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AMA holding 'confidence vote' on Shandro as doctors' battle with health minister escalates

The Alberta Medical Association is asking its members to vote on whether or not they have confidence in Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s ability to work with them as the relationship between physicians and the UCP government continues to sour.

'At every turn, we have been met with a combination of indifference and increasing hostility'

The Alberta Medical Association is asking its members to take part in a vote on whether physicians have confidence in Health Minister Tyler Shandro. (CBC)

The Alberta Medical Association is asking its members to vote on whether or not they have confidence in Health Minister Tyler Shandro's ability to work with them as the relationship between physicians and the UCP government continues to sour.

"Our relationship with the provincial government has reached an all-time low," said AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar in a letter to the membership.

"We are in unprecedented times, and by an overwhelming majority, [our leadership committee] took the step of requesting a confidence vote referendum on the minister of health."

Shandro and the AMA have been locked in an increasingly public and acrimonious battle since the United Conservative government terminated the provinces' physician compensation agreement with the AMA in February.

It did so as it ramped up efforts to reform the health-care system and limit the increasing cost of physician services.

The AMA is suing the provincial government for $250 million over the termination of the master agreement.

"For months now, the AMA has repeatedly attempted to engage the minister of health in an honest and fair negotiation with physicians," Molnar said in her letter.

"At every turn, we have been met with a combination of indifference and increasing hostility. It is damaging your practices, our health-care system and patient care every day that it continues."

Earlier this month, a survey by the Alberta Medical Association suggested 42 per cent of the 1,740 doctors who responded are planning to leave the province due to changes in how they are paid. 

Shandro then threatened to start publicly disclosing the billings of individual physicians. 

The health minister has also directed the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to change its standards of practice for physicians in an attempt to stop the province's doctors from leaving their practices en masse due to the ongoing dispute over pay.

In an email, Shandro's press secretary Steve Buick said the minister is simply pressing ahead with the government's mandate.

"Our government has a mandate from Albertans to reduce wait times and make our health system more efficient," he wrote. "That is exactly what we are doing. An online survey of a comparatively small number of the highest earners does not change that."

Molnar said if the results of the online vote show that AMA members do have confidence in Shandro, the association will continue efforts to work with him.

"There's never been a previous minister of health that the AMA has not been able to successfully negotiate an agreement with," Molnar told CBC News.

If the vote shows members don't have confidence in Shandro, the AMA will push for Premier Jason Kenney to step in.

"We are very interested in getting talking to government and finding a way through the impasse and getting to a negotiated agreement that will set Alberta's health-care system on a path forward during this difficult economic time," Molnar said in the interview.

The online vote will be open until July 28 at 11 p.m.

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