Liberals vow to work the weekend to end paramedic strike
Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong says the government will keep the legislature sitting throughout the weekend if it has to, in order to pass legislation ending a seven-month strike by paramedics.
The legislature is scheduled to adjourn Thursday afternoon for a week, but there are rumblings the New Democrats will oppose Bill 21 ordering the paramedics back to work.
Health Minister Kevin Falcon introduced the legislation on Monday.
He says the strike has dragged on too long and is putting people's health at risk with the approach of winter and in the face of the H1N1 virus.
But Dave Deines, vice president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., blames the approach of the 2010 Games for the proposed bill.
"We've very confident that the Olympics have put pressure on the government to legislate us back to work," Deines said.
Olympic security exercises
On Thursday, two major Olympic security drills were disrupted by picketing paramedics.
At the Via Rail yard, a security drill simulating a chemical attack was scheduled. Striking paramedics forced the drill to be moved to the Vancouver firefighters training facility next door.
Another drill at St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver was also disrupted.
140 agencies took part in the exercises. No paramedics participated.
A "broken" ambulance system
The paramedics have been on strike since April to back demands for higher wages, although provincial legislation has prevented them from walking off the job.
Deines calls the current system "broken" and in dire need of a third-party audit, citing issues with training, recruitment and staff scheduling.
"We've asked for an independent review and the government has refused to do that," Deines said.
In September, the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. ordered it's 3600 members to stop working overtime hours for a single weekend.
As a result, the number of ambulances on duty was down 30 per cent in the Lower Mainland -- and for several hours, ambulances in Hope, Agassiz and Whistler were unavailable.
A B.C. court ordered the paramedics to return to their normal and historical availability on Sept. 20.
With files from The Canadian Press