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98% of doctors who voted in survey have no confidence in Alberta health minister

An overwhelming majority of Alberta doctors have no confidence in provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Alberta Medical Association.

'It’s a toxic situation and physicians have had enough,' association president says

An AMA poll suggests the vast majority of doctors in Alberta have no confidence in Health Minister Tyler Shandro. (CBC)

An overwhelming majority of Alberta doctors have no confidence in provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Alberta Medical Association.

The association, which represents more than 13,000 doctors in the province, said nearly 98 per cent of 8,900 members who cast ballots this week expressed a lack of confidence in Shandro.

Association president Dr. Christina Molnar said the message from physicians "couldn't be clearer," and the vote should dispel any doubts about the unity of the profession in opposition to the health minister.

"They don't have confidence in the minister of health and his ability to do what's right for the public health-care system, and they do not trust him," Molnar said at a news conference Wednesday morning. "Over the the past year, Minister Shandro's words and actions have created a chaotic state in our health-care system and have alienated most of the people who are actually responsible for delivering care in Alberta."

Molnar said she will now write to Premier Jason Kenney to ask for a meeting. If doctors lack confidence in the minister, the association will turn to the premier for help to negotiate a new provincial agreement with physicians, she said.

"It's a toxic situation and physicians have had enough," Molnar said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Kenney said Shandro has his support.

Kenney said he, himself, is accountable to the Albertans who elected him, not an "interest group" of physicians. Albertans expect his government to curtail government spending, he said.

About 10 per cent of provincial government spending compensates doctors for their services and overhead costs. Kenney said compensation to doctors has increased at a time when most Alberta workers' take-home pay is flat or decreasing.

"We simply don't have the money," he said. "And there's a question of fairness here, as well."

Later in an email, Kenney's press secretary, Christine Myatt, said Alberta's economic challenges have amplified the concern over the rising cost of compensating doctors.

"We recognize that the AMA's pressure tactics have worked in years past with previous governments, but we are determined to finally confront the problem."

Alberta's population has also grown by about seven per cent during the last five years, she said.

Spat with doctors spans months

The association has been locked in a battle with the United Conservative Party government since last fall, when the province first proposed changes to the way doctors should be paid.

The government also gave the minister legal authority to terminate the province's master agreement with doctors, which Shandro did in February, unilaterally imposing a new pay structure.

The association then launched a legal challenge against the government, claiming it had violated doctors' Charter rights. The government's statement of defence claimed the association doesn't have the right to bargain collectively or access arbitration. None of the claims have been proven in court.

Doctors in at least 10 communities have said they intend to withdraw their services from local hospitals or leave town. That prompted Shandro to approach the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to demand the regulator prevent doctors from leaving communities en masse.

Early Tuesday morning, Shandro successfully amended a health-care bill before the legislature to require doctors to publicly disclose compensation they receive from the government. Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, passed the legislature early Wednesday morning during an all-night sitting.

Some doctors have said they have no objection to disclosure of money they receive from government, as long as government makes it clear the gross pay includes overhead costs, money for staff salaries, and other expenses.

Shandro said during debate he was open to discussing with doctors how their compensation will be published.

The Opposition NDP has called for Shandro's resignation for months.

NDP leader Rachel Notley said the AMA is unlikely to find a sympathetic ear with Kenney.

"This shows a complete and utter failure on the part of Tyler Shandro and a shameful mismanagement of this issue," she said of the AMA vote.

With files from Jennifer Lee

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