New Brunswick settles paramedics staffing issue
New Brunswick's health minister has flip-flopped on a change he announced a month ago.
It was in mid-December when Ted Flemming announced the elimination of a requirement to hire bilingual paramedics in parts of the province.
But this week, Flemming revealed he's taking a new approach and it seems that's keeping everyone satisfied, for now.
Flemming was health minister for a little over a month when he made the announcement to eliminate the requirement for bilingual paramedics in primarily-unilingual areas.
“To me, there is no other path available,” Flemming said on Dec. 19. “My conscience wouldn't permit it.”
People's Alliance of New Brunswick leader Kris Austin called it a “win for New Brunswickers.”
But after the announcement, the language commissioner said it didn't comply with the Languages Act.
Now, a month later, almost to the day, a new directive from the minister to Ambulance New Brunswick, has a different tone.
It tells the company to “continue its efforts to recruit and retain bilingual staff with the goal of having all bilingual-designated positions filled with bilingual paramedics. This will ensure every emergency 911 ambulance unit be a bilingual unit.”
The letter also directs Ambulance New Brunswick to create new “float team” positions that will provide full-time employment for temporary, unilingual paramedics.
Those paramedics will fill a position until another bilingual paramedic is hired, then the unilingual paramedic will be reassigned to another position -- always maintaining full time employment.
The minister wasn't available today, but the languages commissioner calls this latest change a “clear commitment by the provincial government to respect the language rights of New Brunswickers.”
The paramedics association says they're also 100 per cent supportive.
“This isn't a new option,” said Chris Hood, of the New Brunswick Paramedics Association.“What they've announced is certainly something that's been well-used in other parts of the country, so we think it's a great approach. Politically, there may be some advantages to this approach versus the previous one.”
Austin says it's still a win for the province.
“The objective is the same,” Austin said. “Unilingual paramedics will be receiving full-time work which means there’s more boots on the ground.”
There's another interesting item on the letter.
“The department of health will immediately begin discussing with yourselves and paramedic representatives towards establishing a new testing procedure regarding language proficiency,” the letter says.
“That should be perhaps the highlight of the conversation,” Hood said. “Having appropriate testing that’s related to the profession, that's related to some objectiveness and objective testing.”
So, while this new move is considered a good one, there's still work left in problem-solving the paramedic issue, plaguing both politicians and those who voted for them.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.