On Friday, the government released details of a $2-billion “agreement in principal” with Quebec medical specialists in effect from 2015 to 2023.
Specialists will see an 11.2 per cent increase spread out over eight years, which will cost the province $511 million. The doctors will also get another $1.5 billion, the equivalent of three times their salary increase, spread out over 10 years for what the government is calling its “debt to doctors.”
The National Assembly debated for three days this week about the agreement, thinking they had the final numbers.
On Thursday, during question period, Parti Quebecois (PQ) health critic, Diane Lamarre asked Treasury Board president Pierre Arcand why the money wasn’t being spent instead on patient care. The PQ has said they will freeze doctors’ salaries if elected next fall.
“Giving $1 billion to 10,000 specialists in the next five years is simply obscene,” said PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée.
When the agreement was finally made public on Friday, we learned the deal is actually worth over $2 billion. If that sounds like a lot of money, Arcand said it’s a “reasonable deal,” and could have cost the government a lot more money.
Arcand explained that is because they repealed what’s called a “trailer clause”: in 2014, specialists were to receive a salary hike any time the government negotiated an increase with other unionized employees.
Arcand said doctors agreed to forego $3 billion in salary increases over the next decade.
“I think it’s a question of realism on the part of the federation,” he said.
In the second part of the agreement, the government also promises to pay back by 2027, what it says is its “debt to doctors.” In total, the government will pay $1.5 billion, which amounts to 2.2 per cent a year over 10 years on top of the 1.4 per cent increase specialists receive through the agreement.
“There was an agreement in 2007. In 2008, the whole world had budget problems,” Arcand said.
However, the Opposition says this is a diversion tactic because specialists don’t need salary increases at all.
“Since 2015, he says, doctors in Quebec have been earning more than they do in Ontario,” CAQ health critic, François Paradis said. “We’re giving too much money and now, our hands are tied for 10 years.”
“There’s a certain part of the population, no matter what the deal would have been, that thinks doctors probably earn too much,” Arcand said.
Specialists promise better access
The agreement includes $105 million specifically to increase access to MRIs and X-rays.
Currently, there are 58,000 people on a wait list for an MRI. Forty-five percent of those people will wait longer than 90 days. Specialists say they are committed to making sure that as many MRI machines as possible will run 16 hours a day.
The government has also made a special agreement with anesthesiologists to provide care in all regions of Quebec. Breaking the agreement could result in a fine of $3,000 for a single specialist or as much as $200,000 for the association.