Alberta and Ontario comparing notes on doctors' pay, Redford says

TORONTO – Alberta Premier Alison Redford says her government is “comparing notes” with Ontario on how to negotiate pay for doctors.

She says Ontario and Alberta’s ministers of health have been talking about discussions that took place during contract negotiations with doctors.

In particular, Redford says they’ve been comparing notes about fee structures and salaries.

She says Alberta is facing challenging times and it’s less likely that it can compensate doctors the way it could when revenues were good.

Ontario, which is facing a $12-billion deficit, spent months battling with the province’s doctors before reaching a deal.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews played hardball by making regulatory changes last May that cut doctors’ fees and premiums.

But the doctors returned to the table in September and endorsed a new two-year deal that’s expected to trim spending by $400 million.

The governing Liberals reversed the fee cuts to reach the new agreement, which will add $100 million to doctors’ total compensation package. But Matthews said the deal includes savings in other areas to completely offset the additional payments for doctors.

The Alberta Medical Association and the province have been negotiating a new deal for doctors for almost two years.

The deadline for those talks was recently extended until after Redford’s government delivers its 2013-14 budget on March 7.

She has suggested that the way talks go with the physicians could affect whether Alberta brings back health premiums after a four-year absence.

But she’s now ruling out the return of the health premium in the budget.

“Ontario’s minister of health and our Minister of Health Fred Horne have been comparing notes with respect to a number of the discussions that have taken place in doctor negotiations around fee structures, and partly around salary,” Redford said following a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto.

Alberta is facing a “fiscal challenge,” she said.

“When revenue is good, we certainly want to make sure we’re compensating our public sector and our doctors as well as we can,” she added.

“These are challenging times for us, so it’s going to be less likely that we can do that.”

Earlier in the day, Redford made a stop at the Ontario legislature to sit down with the new premier-to-be Kathleen Wynne, outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Wynne and Redford settled in a room in the legislative library to talk, giving each other a high-five for the cameras. But it didn’t go as well with Hudak, who needed two tries to get it right.

Redford said she spoke to Wynne about economic growth and the challenges both provinces are facing this year, as well as the importance of a national transportation strategy.

The meeting gave them a chance to discuss where they can find some common ground, she said.

“I think we’re already starting to find those,” Redford said.