Quebec's medical specialists defend pay deal, say they're helping system save money

Suddenly finding themselves the black sheep of Quebec health-care system, the province's medical specialists defended Thursday their controversial pay deal with the government, saying it will save money and improve service.

Specialists' federation says new deal doesn't actually feature any new pay raises

"The negotiations were conducted with the goal of improving the conditions in which medial specialists work," said Diane Francoeur, president of the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists. (Radio-Canada)

Suddenly finding themselves the black sheep of the health-care system, Quebec's medical specialists defended Thursday their controversial pay deal with the government, saying it will save money and improve service. 

The deal was finalized yesterday after lengthy negotiations and was the subject of public outcry when details were released last month. 

It will see the envelope of money set aside for specialists increased by two per cent annually. In addition, they will receive a lump sum payment of $480 million, spread over four years.

That money is compensation owed from a previous pay deal with the government, and works out to an average of $12,000 in additional annual pay for Quebec's 10,000 specialists.   

As details of the deal went public, other health-care workers were speaking out about low pay and difficult working conditions.

Nurses, in particular, are increasingly being forced to work overtime, a situation their unions and professional order says is untenable.

Moreover, according to data compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, medical specialists in Quebec make, on average, $403,537 a year, compared to $367,154 in Ontario.

These are the top-paying medical specialties in Quebec. (RAMQ)

Target of criticism

These factors weighed against the specialists in the court of public opinion, and some accused them of holding the health-care system hostage with their extravagant pay demands. 

A group representing doctors and medical students — Médecins québécois pour le régime public — said doctors' salaries were out of proportion with those of other health-care workers.

Both main opposition parties — the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec — criticized the deal with the specialists, saying it came at the expense of other health-care priorities. 

The federation representing the specialists remained silent throughout the controversy. With the deal finally inked, they emerged Thursday to argue their compensation demands had widely been misunderstood. 

"In recent years, medical specialist have been the target of acerbic attacks. What happened? The bonds of trust seemed to have frittered away," said Diane Francoeur, president of the Federation of Quebec Medical Specialists.

Concessions made 

Specialists made a number of concessions about pay in order to extract promises from the government to improve their working conditions, Francoeur said. 

"The negotiations were conducted with the goal of improving the conditions in which medial specialists work, and which have an effect on patients. That goal was achieved," she added.

According to federation, their pay deal, which covers the 2015-2023 period, doesn't actually include any annual pay increases.

It said the annual two per cent increase in government money set aside for the federation will go toward paying for additional resources required to treat Quebec's aging population, including hiring more doctors.  

Quebec's Liberal government, which has also come under fire for the deal, estimated it will save taxpayers more than $3 billion over the next five years.

"The adjectives used to describe the financial element of the deal suggested outrageous increases or stratospheric hikes, and accused medical specialists of abysmal gluttony," said the federation's lawyer Sylvain Bellevance. 

"But the size of their concessions suggests otherwise."