NLMA negotiations come up in House
Negotiations between the province and its doctors, which appear to be in limbo, came up in the House of Assembly Tuesday.
Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones characterized recent comments by Premier Danny Williams and Health Minister Jerome Kennedy as "shameful" and an attack on the doctors.
"In light of your government's damaged relationship with the province's doctors, are you willing to send these negotiations to binding arbitration?" asked Jones as question period began.
The premier's response was swift. "Under no circumstances are we prepared to send this matter to binding arbitration," he said.
Williams said next week's provincial budget will contain a second consecutive deficit, and the government wants to be careful with taxpayers' money.
Government negotiators contacted the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) Tuesday morning offering to resume negotiations, but the premier said that was "flatly rejected by the NLMA."
The association wants the government to respond to a proposal it made March 3, in writing, before talks resume.
Jones asked Finance Minister Tom Marshall why the response hasn't been sent yet.
Marshall replied by saying a response is being drafted and will be sent soon.
He also said the contents of the proposal would have been discussed at a meeting last week - which was cancelled after the opposition held a news conference to say clinical chiefs across the province planned a mass resignation.
And Marshall said the NLMA only asked for a written response Tuesday morning.
"We're not delaying," he told Jones. "Discussions will take place. They will continue and we will negotiate a deal that's fair to all concerned."
The government estimates the cost of the NLMA's proposal at between $126 million and $140 million a year.
The association estimated the cost to government at $80 million earlier Tuesday.
Jones then asked Kennedy what his plan was to fill gaps in the number of specialists needed in the province in light of the strained relationship with the NLMA.
Kennedy countered by saying the province now has more doctors than ever before, with a net increase of 53 doctors in the last 18 months.
He also said the province has introduced other measures including a retention bonus for doctors who take jobs in rural and isolated areas.
Kennedy admitted there are still some gaps in the health care system, but suggested the province is doing all it can.
"Overall, Mr. Speaker, we are doing quite well," he said.