Paramedics enter final push for referendum

Paramedics are seeking signatures as a step towards becoming an essential service

As canvassers are making their final push, paramedic Clive Barnbrook keeps encountering the same reaction when people find out those in his profession are not an essential service.

“Most people in the public kind of say ‘you’re not? really? are you serious?’ They view us as an emergency service,” Barnbrook said. “I tell them legally speaking, and that’s a key term, we’re not considered an essential service. We’re an emergency service.”

Barnbrook said he has yet to hear someone come up with a reason why paramedics are not in the same position as firefighters and police officers when it comes to bargaining, and other issues.

Barnbrook, a paramedic for 23 years, lives in Penticton but works in the Vancouver area. Barnbrook has been working on getting the signatures for a referendum in the Penticton riding.

Unlike police and firefighters, paramedics are not an essential service in B.C. The petition aims to amend the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act to include paramedics. They currently bargain with hospital support staff including cleaning staff and lab technicians. Paramedics making up around 10 per cent of that group can make it difficult for their issues to be heard.

It also gives paramedics little control over strike votes and having any say in accepting or refusing contracts.

Barnbrook and hundreds of others throughout the province are driving to get signatures from 10 per cent of the eligible voting population from each of B.C.’s 85 electoral districts to get the referendum on the ballot.

“It’s a very, very steep mountain,” Barnbrook said, noting that usually getting paramedics together on one issue is like “herding cats.”

“This is one of the very, very few issues I think has united us and galvanized us. There’s a lot of time and work into this effort,” Barnbrook said.

There is good reason too, Barnbrook said, he believes it’s the last chance during his career to have the change made, and could affect the future of the profession.

He said that is showing up in the amount of people entering the profession these days and the amount of understaffing he’s seen in the Vancouver area.

“This is the last opportunity for us as a profession to advance. If we’re not in a position where we can entice the next generation to come into our profession and then stay and grow and move the profession forward, then we’re done,” Barnbrook said. “It sounds catastrophic and all that kind of stuff, but we’re truthfully were not holding onto what we’ve had in the past.”

There are no official numbers yet, but his best estimate is 2,000 signatures have been attained in the Penticton electoral district and over 1,500 for the Boundary Similkameen district.

Josh Henshaw, proponent for the petition provincially, said there are five electoral districts who have reached the required amount of signatures, leaving 80 districts still needed before the early April deadline.

“There are quite a few more that are probably going to get crossed off that list this week,” Henshaw said.

It will be tough to get the exact signature numbers with stats coming in from 85 districts a few at a time, with 1,420 canvassers province wide. Rural and remote B.C. has had an easier time than heavier urban areas to reach their goals, Henshaw said.

“I think for the most part that’s a function of most of our canvassers being paramedics and in the urban areas that’s where paramedics are spread pretty thin with their regularly scheduled hours and overtime and on top of that everybody is getting called in on their days off,” Henshaw said. “It makes it a bit trickier to find the time for canvassing.”

Henshaw said public support has been great so far and he is optimistic heading into the final stretch.

Canvassers will be out seeking signatures at the Penticton and Summerland IGAs at 3 p.m. March 17, the Summerland IGA on March 18, the Penticton and Summerland IGAs again at 3 p.m. on March 24. The Summerland Research and Development Centre’s Seedy Saturday event starting at 10 a.m. March 25.

You can also look out for the petition at the Okanagan Fest of Ale and upcoming Penticton Vees games. Find upcoming events in your district at as well as their Facebook page.

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