A few thoughts from last weekend’s OMA Council meeting…

With most of the Ontario medical community feverishly discussing the Auditor General’s report from Wednesday, I wanted to spend a bit of time reviewing what transpired at this past weekend’s OMA Fall Council meeting.

All of us in attendance knew that it would certainly be an eventful meeting, being the first Council meeting following the tPSA rejection, and with the backdrop of the Coalition of Ontario Doctors’ active petition to call for another General Members’ Meeting. I am always pleasantly surprised when the polarization and hyperbole of social media is replaced with generally cordial and thoughtful dialogue. I thought the meeting was productive, with a litany of provocative motions passed and the OMA board and executive seemingly committed to major changes.

However, reading many of the online posts and comments both during and after the meeting, it felt like I had attended a different meeting than a few of my fellow members. I understand that the primary goals of the Coalition remain the removal of the Executive and the voting of the President by membership (not Council), but painting the entire meeting with deceptive and misleading brushes does everyone a disservice, particularly engaged members who simply want to know the facts.

Failed motions that were posted on social media by members were chosen specifically to feed the narrative that the OMA is out of touch with membership. In many cases, the issue with the motion was simply a matter of word-smithing, and other motions with similar intent passed with near-unanimous support. The overwhelming tone of the meeting was in opposition to Bill 41, with many motions opposing Bill 41 in various iterations. However, when one motion about Bill 41 failed after a vigorous debate because of a concern about how it may be manipulated politically, it was posted online with the clear intent of misleading members into thinking that Council was somehow in favour of Bill 41. On one particular occasion, the original mover of the motion stepped into the social media discussion to point out that the dissenters actually gave a very good reason for opposing the motion. The debates around motions are so important to understanding the context of the issues, and members seeing only what motions were approved or defeated provides them virtually no meaningful information.

I am quite excited to have the Council meetings broadcast online in their entirety. If the events of Council are going to be manipulated by certain groups in how they are presented to members, then the benefits of transparency far outweigh any potential strategic advantage in keeping Council private from the eyes of the MOH. They need to be broadcast to remove the selective editorializing that is happening, because it is far too easy to disseminate misinformation and inflame existing tensions.

One of the more contentious debates was surrounding the Code of Conduct suggested by the Strategic Working Group. Many Council delegates raised concerns about whether inviting the CPSO to be further involved in the personal activities was wise, but the message that I heard from Dr. Athaide was that this was a policy in evolution. Members would be surveyed as to how a Code of Conduct should look (eg. should CPSO be involved, etc.), which was approved through a motion.

It was striking to me how different the overall tone was of this meeting compared to previous Council meetings I had attended. At previous meetings, I was a bit taken aback by how abrasively the Executive dealt with questions from members that they clearly disagreed with. It was very much a “We know best, please sit down” mentality. Now some may argue that they still saw some of that this past weekend, but I certainly felt that it was a marked change in overall tone. Much more conciliatory, much more willing to support motions rather than pick nits. I am still shocked that the Executive gave its support to the motion that called for “equal time and equal money” to opposition groups during any future general members’ votes. There were also a number of votes on motions where the recommendation of the Executive was ignored, which was also a  relatively new development. There is certainly no shortage of independent thinkers on Council, which is great for the strength of our organization.

Two new board members were elected, Dr. Silvana Bolano and Dr. Nadia Alam, both of whom have been sharp critics of the OMA and supporters of reform. Ousted were a current member of the Executive and a former member of the Negotiations Committee. Somehow that doesn’t count as “real change” in the eyes of some. We heard from the Strategic Working Group which provided 114 recommendations for how the OMA needs to move forward and learn from the disastrous events of this summer. We saw the report from Pricewaterhouse Coopers which detailed the chronology of the tPSA events, and a very clear signal from Council that many were hoping for more of an analysis rather than a simple chronology. We saw a motion approved that would see the “Moving Forward, Moving Together” document put together by Dr. Graham Slaughter’s grassroots group of physicians used to inform the work of a future Negotiations Committee. There was news that a governance map would be drawn up for the organization, to outline to members clearly how the labyrinth of the OMA is to be navigated. There were also promises for clearer instructions to members on who their reps are and how they can contact them. A motion passed that would have the OMA outline on their website the progress of all of the motions from Council, and another motion that would have the Board post their minutes on the OMA website.

Now of course these motions were mostly non-binding, but they show at least a general movement towards a more progressive organization. I’m optimistic.

The OMA still has a long way to go before re-establishing trust with many of its members. I hope that members who didn’t have a chance to attend Council continue to follow ongoing developments, and to ensure that the OMA follows through on their promises, but to do so by following sources that are committed to presenting objective information.

To quote an Ontario surgeon who was very active at Council: “I have seen the change firsthand over the past 18 months. It is slow and frustrating, and at times downright obnoxious, but is happening”.

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