Monday, May 8, 2017

A New Day For The OMA!

Don't you dare be sour! Clap and feel the power!

It's tempting to declare the general meeting of the Ontario Medical Association Council this past weekend an exciting one. That was certainly the vibe on Twitter, provided you could look past the meeting's interminable length, during which not even half of the motions on the floor made it to a vote (but I digress). Still, even as someone who didn't attend and only followed online, it's hard to escape the festive energy coming out of the event.

And with good reason. After the internecine battles over the rejected fee agreement with the province, and the "palace coup" that led to the wholesale resignation of OMA Executive, Ontario's doctors have appointed their new leaders. The lucky(?) folks in question are the new President, Dr. Shawn Whatley, and President-Elect Dr. Nadia Alam. If ever there were two doctors more tapped into the zeitgeist of medical politics, you'd be hard pressed to find them.

Dr. Whatley is a prolific physician-blogger (with, like, 100 times my audience, so spread the word!), who I've sparred with on more than one occasion, if you can call sarcastic tweets 'sparring'. He's been a player in the OMA for a number of years, and resigned from the OMA Board over the mishandling of negotiations and the tentative deal in 2016.

His chosen successor, Dr. Alam, was the public face of resistance to government cutbacks on physician services. She's been a fixture on Huffington Post's Canadian website, has appeared on TVO's The Agenda, and has endured personal criticism in the opinion pages of the Toronto Star.

More to the point, the two enjoy enormous popularity, at least among politically active doctors in Ontario. They'll have the full confidence of an energized, emboldened OMA Council, and will presumably move quickly to address the perceived deficiencies in governance on the part of the "old guard".

The bigger question is whether an engaged membership and renewed leadership can effect results beyond reform of the OMA itself. The doctors have yet to see anything tangible from the rejection of the 2016 offer, and there's still no framework for arbitration in place. Without secure and sufficient funding to run their practices, what do the doctors have to show for all the infighting?

There's bound to be ill will. The number of current and future doctors that openly favored collaboration over confrontation with government numbered in the hundreds, the growing drumbeat for job action is almost guaranteed to result in more discord, and let's never forget how nasty and distasteful such discord between doctors can get. There's no such thing as a free lunch, but doctors are better off not squandering what they get in a food fight.
(Confession: I have no explanation for that last metaphor. I just felt an urge to include a picture of the lunchbox.)

Nevertheless, it behooves Ontario's doctors to give their new leadership the time and support to hammer out a new governance structure for the OMA, and to take a chance on a sharper approach to negotiations with government. It doesn't mean anyone can expect a return to the bountiful days of the mid-2000s. But getting the government to take its obligations to the crises in medicine seriously - hospital crowding, patient complexity, burnout, among others - is something the new OMA leaders strongly support. All of Ontario's doctors should too.

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