Using the same process that eliminated the Harmonized Sales Tax from B.C., paramedics are trying to be ruled an essential service.
Fire fighting and police services are both considered essential services in the province, but ambulance service is not.
So Victoria paramedic Josh Henshaw is using the province’s Initiative process to try and make a change. The task he and organizers of the petition face is signing up 10 per cent of the voters in each of the province’s 85 electoral districts.
They will need to collect the signatures of 316,000 people.
If they get the signatures, the government will be forced to either legislate paramedics into an essential service, or hold a referendum on the matter – as the government did with the HST.
“The government knows we want to be covered by that legislation. They’ve had the opportunity to put us there, and they haven’t,” said Henshaw.
Darryl Gunn, a semi-retired paramedic from Maple Ridge, is one of six local people charged with collecting signatures. He needs to gather approximately 4,000 signatures for each of the local ridings – Maple Ridge-Mission and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.
He has already been out gathering support, and will be at the Save-On Foods at Lougheed and 227th on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“People have been overwhelmingly positive,” said Gunn. “They literally can’t believe paramedics are not an essential service already.”
He added, “It’s something that is long overdue. It’s important to us, because for a long time we have been the primary advocates for emergency health care in the province.”
Now they’re fighting so there will be no ambulance service interruptions, he said.
“Nobody gets up in the morning thinking they’ll need an ambulance that day, or they wouldn’t get out of bed. But bad things happen to good people, and we see it all the time.”
Henshaw said it is an issue of public safety, but also one of labour fairness.
The last time paramedics went on strike, they were immediately legislated back to work. They would rather give up the right to strike and have the employer lose the right to lock them out.
When fire and police services reach an impasse in collective bargaining, a neutral third party arbitrates an agreement. That’s what paramedics want, said Henshaw.
The signatures must all be collected in 90 days, and the deadline is April 10.
Henshaw said the organizers are buoyed by the fact that they are getting almost unanimous support. That makes what looks like a daunting task easier than the HST petition, where public opinion was almost evenly split.
“Everyone signs,” said Henshaw. “It’s looking possible – I’m optimistic right now.”
He said canvassers have tens of thousands of signatures already, and are just hitting their stride.
“It’s direct democracy. It’s great.”