Doctors, B.C. government settle dispute

The B.C. government and the province's doctors have settled their long-running dispute.

B.C. doctors are being advised to go back to work after their union accepted the government's latest offer in their bitter contract dispute.

The province's 7,800 doctors will vote on the proposal in a mail-in ballot over the next 45 days.

The terms exceeded the $392 million cap the government placed on the deal, BCMA president Heidi Oetter told members in an e-mail reported by Canadian Press.

The pact also gives them the right to take job action if the government rejects binding arbitration awards.

The cap and binding arbitration were the two issues that doctors cited in their job actions over the past three weeks.

Several thousand surgeries have been cancelled and offices and emergency departments closed.

Negotiators for both sides have been talking all week. Both sides said earlier Thursday that some progress has been made. The government's chief negotiator, Gary Moser, said, "We've been able to remove the substantive barriers that have existed."

As the doctors withdrawal of services escalated, the government became angrier and angrier. On Wednesday, the health services minister said he'd had enough. Colin Hansen said the government might act unilaterally to resolve the dispute. He wouldn't specify exactly what the province would do but said the government had a "bunch of options."

Some doctors said they would resign if the government legislated them back to work. Jeff Rains, president of the Anesthesiologists Society of B.C., said he and his colleagues would leave the system.

If that happened, patients would have to pay anesthesiologists in advance, and then try to collect from the government.

Doctors throughout the province have been withdrawing services since May 13 when talks between the government and the BCMA broke off.

The dispute is rooted in an arbitrator's report the government rejected earlier this year. That report recommended doctors get a base increase of $392 million, an increase on top of that, and binding arbitration to resolve future disputes.