South Glengarry to Ontario: Make EMS an essential service

A half dozen paramedics with Cornwall-SDG Paramedic Services sit in the gallery during a South Glengarry council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. The EMS workers clapped after a motion was passed by council to ask the Ontario government to make paramedics an essential service. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

LANCASTER – South Glengarry council has made a formal petition to the Ontario government to make paramedics an essential service.

“Talking to other people in the streets they feel like it is (an) essential (service) and they thought it was essential until locally there was some labour negotiations and paramedic services were reduced significantly,” said Coun. Trevor Bougie on his petition.

While the rest of council stood behind Bougie’s petition, Mayor Ian McLeod noted there were discussions about making EMS an essential service at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference but also about legislation for municipalities on their ability to pay for settlements.

If paramedics are deemed an essential service, they can’t strike when bargaining talks break down. Instead, the union can send the matter to arbitration where a panel decides how paramedics should be paid.

Firefighters and police are already an essential service.

Municipalities like Cornwall, which runs the ambulance service in SD&G, have argued that those arbitration boards don’t take municipal finances into account – essentially giving Toronto-like wages and benefits to Cornwall employees.

Under the current limited essential service system, during the three week strike in May, there were three ambulances covering SD&G during the day and two at night, instead of the usual nine. Ambulance calls were also supported by neighbouring jurisdictions not on strike, like Prescott-Russell and Leeds-Grenville, under the Ambulance Act.

Frustrated with the situation during the work stoppage, Bougie had also proposed a private EMS-like service to serve South Glengarry residents though the idea never got off the ground.

The essential service petition will be sent to Premier Doug Ford, local MPP Jim McDonell, the Ministry of Labour and all other Ontario municipalities through AMO.

After the motion was passed, a half dozen paramedics in the audience with CUPE Local 5734 broke into applause.