A group of Ontario doctors say they’re fuming after Health Minister Eric Hoskins skipped a debate on health care at Queen’s Park last week in order to attend a Blue Jays game.

The debate on an opposition motion to restore axed funding to health care took place on Oct. 21 and was attended by about 200 doctors, some of whom took the day off work and bused in from around the province.

The motion, supported by the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP, was debated between 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and was then voted on and ultimately defeated by Liberal MPPs.

Absent from the legislature, however, was Hoskins, who was spotted attending a Blue Jays playoff game at the Rogers Centre in a photo taken during the debate on the motion and then circulated on social media.

“How unfair is it that the very day there’s a motion on health care for Ontarians, he disappears for a Jays game,” said Nadia Alam, a doctor who helped organize the day of action at Queen’s Park. “How unfair is it – he’s the health minister.”

While he was absent for the afternoon session, Hoskins and Premier Kathleen Wynne responded to questions from opposition MPPs during Question Period in the morning.

In an email to CP24.com Monday, Hoskins responded to the criticism and said he met with Ontario Medical Association President Michael Toth last week.

“I take my role as Minister of Health very seriously. I have and continue to work with the OMA and all of our stakeholder groups to ensure that our health care system is strong,” Hoskins said in the email.

Hoskins said that at his meeting with Toth, he offered to follow up on a recommendation by former Chief Justice Warren Winkler to create a task force that would examine and advise on possible improvements to the delivery and funding of physician services.

The OMA agreed to take part in the initiative, but has also launched a charter challenge in response to the fee reductions, arguing that the dispute should be resolved through binding arbitration, an option the province has declined.

Doctors have been locked in a war of words with the province over cuts to health care funding, including a reduction in fees for physicians that they say will hurt patient care and discourage good physicians from setting up practices in the province.

The government has countered that Ontario doctors are among the best paid doctors in the world, with the average doctor in the province billing OHIP around $360,000 per year. However they have acknowledged that that amount is not equivalent to take-home pay, with doctors shelling out high overhead and other costs.

Alam said some 200 doctors from around the province rearranged clinics and other appointments so that they could bus in to Queen’s Park to make their voices heard.

“We wanted to add weight to the motion,” she explained.

The group that went to Queen’s Park Wednesday were told that they could not all sit in the viewing gallery because a school trip was scheduled to visit, Alam said. However no school group showed up.

Those who were able to enter in the afternoon saw opposition MPPs addressing Hoskins’ empty seat, said Dr. Kulvinder Gill, who also organized the day of action.

“It was definitely a frustrating day because we felt ignored,” she said.

Gill said contrary to what some people perceive, the outrage from doctors is not just about salaries.

“They (cuts) have been spun as just a decrease in physician income,” she said. “It’s gotten so bad that at this point we have to say something because it’s actually starting to impact patient care.”

In his email Monday, Hoskins said he is “disappointed” in the OMA for not continuing discussions and accused the organization of wanting to litigate.

“We remain committed to a constructive discussion with the OMA should they wish to pursue that avenue. The focus should always be on patients and serving their needs best,” Hoskins said.

While doctors who attended the debate at Queen’s Park Wednesday are OMA members, the day was organized through the online Facebook group 'Concerned Ontario Doctors' rather than the OMA itself.

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