Alberta’s doctors reach tentative agreement with the province

CALGARY — Alberta’s health minister and the president of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) confirm the two sides have reached a tentative agreement regarding physician contracts.

The agreement will require the support of AMA members before it is ratified. The association plans to host a special meeting of its governing body via video conference next week to discuss the agreement. With the representative forum’s approval, the AMA board of directors will then open voting to its 11,000 members immediately as part of a voting period that will last for three weeks.

“Negotiations on a provincial agreement for physicians have continued despite the pandemic, with both the government and AMA recommitting to work together,” said Health Minister Tyler Shandro in a statement released Friday afternoon. “Both parties came to the table understanding the importance of collaboration, while respecting our differences, so we could achieve an agreement during these challenging times. Throughout the process, both parties shared an abiding commitment to put Albertans’ safety and well-being first and foremost.

“Our tentative agreement allows for fiscal sustainability into the future, while maintaining a strong focus on patient care and fairness and equity for physicians.”

Details of the agreement have not been disclosed but the AMA president is happy with the outcome.

“I am pleased to arrive at this opportunity to return to a collaborative relationship between the physicians of Alberta and government,” said Dr. Paul Boucher, AMA president, in a statement. “For many years, AMA agreements have been powerful tools toward improving quality care that brings high value to the system and to patients. They are not just about funding for physicians. They have addressed needs such as new models for delivering care, building the Medical Home in Alberta, strategies to improve quality of care for patients and more. This tentative agreement package has potential to continue that legacy.”

The agreement concludes a tumultuous year of on-again, off-again negotiations.

In February 2020, the AMA criticized Shandro and the provincial government’s decision to terminate its existing contract with doctors and announce a new funding framework. The AMA referred to the health minister’s behaviour as being an “extremely aggressive and inconsistent approach” for implementing change.

The following month the AMA filed a Charter challenge against the provincial government for what it claimed was bad faith bargaining and the unilateral termination of the right to arbitration for a group designated as an essential service.

The rift between the two sides appeared to grow in July 2020 when Alberta Health Services posted 179 openings seeking international doctors to work in Alberta as general practitioners or specialists.

Dr. Boucher says he appreciates the health minister’s willingness to commit to the negotiating process.

“I share the hope that a new working relationship can be formed out of this tentative agreement: based on collaboration and shared objectives to deliver the best care for Albertans, sustainably and with fairness for physicians.”

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