Medical specialists scorn Quebec wage offer

The federation representing Quebec's medical specialists has rejected the province's latest wage hike offer, and remains committed to reaching salary parity with doctors across Canada.

The federation representingQuebec'smedical specialists has rejected the province's latest wage hike offer, and remains committed to reaching salary paritywith doctors across Canada.

Health Minister Philippe Couillard's latest offer of $430 million in wage hikes is not enough to remove the salary gap Quebec's 8,000specialists face, a gap the previous provincial government had promised to close,federation presidentGaétan Barrette said Monday.

The new offer, announced by Couillard on Sunday, would work out to a 15-per-cent raise for medical specialists over the next decade, up from the 12.5-per-cent offer Quebec put on the table earlier in November.

It's all Quebec can offer its specialists, who live in a province where the cost of living is lower because of subsidized universal daycare, lower electricity rates and cheaper tuition, Couillard said. He hoped the offer would be enough to entice specialists back to the negotiating table.

Specialists have also said they want binding mediation to end their conflict with the province. The Quebec government has said it will not agree to mediation if it isn't done within the financial framework stipulated by the most recent contract with doctors, which took effect in June 2006, Couillard said.

That contract, imposed through the highly disputed Bill 37, caps specialists' salaries and restricts doctors activities in hospital settings.

Pressure tactics have to stop: province

Quebec has asked the Essential Services Council to weigh in on the legality of two work actions taken by the medical specialists in the course of their conflict with the province:

  • Obstetricians and gynecologists have vowed to not renew their malpractice insurance, and say they'll stop performing births at several hospitals in Montreal and across the province on Jan. 1 if the wage dispute has not been resolved.
  • Specialists at some teaching hospitals have also stopped instructing students— l'Université de Montréal, Canada's largest medical school, and l'Université Laval, in Quebec City, have bothcancelled medical internships for the rest of the year because of the classroom boycott.

Couillard said he's concerned about the cancellation of internships, and its long-term effect on the graduation rate among Quebec doctors. "We need more doctors. We want these students to graduate as predicted, otherwise it could affect access to medical services all across Quebec."

The universities said they had little choice but to cancel the internships because of the specialists' actions.

Internships aren't much use if students aren't doing rounds with doctors, said Jean Rouleau, dean of l'Université de Montréal's school of medicine. "It's essential for them to see it and live it —learning out of a book has its limits."

The schools will ask interns to return to class to prepare for their standardized exams in spring 2007. But class time is a poor substitute for hospital rounds with a doctor, said l'Université Laval dean Pierre Durand. "There is nothing to compensate the direct exposure to patients under the supervision of a trained physician."

The cancellation is causing seriousconcernamong medical students, especially those nearing graduation, said Marc Beltempo, president of l'Université de Montréal's medical students' association. "We don't know if we will lose our semester, if students will graduate in due time, we have no idea what is going to happen," he said Monday.

McGill University announced Monday it will maintain its internship program, despite the job action taken by specialists.

"About 60 per cent of our students assigned to rotations have not been allowed to participate in clinical activities," Dr. Richard Levin, dean of McGill's faculty of medicine, said in a press release.

"But we will continue to assign students rotations in those areas that are not affected so far."

Door open to review Bill 37

Medical specialists have maintained their demand that Quebec rescind Bill 37 as part of any deal to end the dispute. Quebec has said the legislation, which was tabled and adopted in June 2006, is not negotiable.

However,Couillard softened the government's tone slightly on Sunday,saying the bill could be up for discussion if medical specialists agreed to mediation on the government's terms, andstopped their pressure tactics.