Apr 14, 2010

B.C. citizens take back seat to elite

WHISTLER – B.C.’s 3,500 striking ambulance paramedics say elite Olympics trials are getting priority over emergency services for B.C. residents.

The Ambulance Paramedics of BC, CUPE 873, say many B.C. communities have been left without any ambulances while the BC Ambulance Service has dedicated ambulances and paramedics to the Whistler Sliding Centre for three weeks of practice for visiting Olympic athletes.

The paramedics have set up periodic picket lines outside the Sliding Centre to inform the public. They stress that the government’s first priority should be providing ambulance services for B.C. communities.

“That so many ambulance resources are being provided for these Olympics trials at a time when the public goes without illustrates the provincial government’s skewed priorities for our ambulance system. We have been saying for the last four years that the system is in critical condition,” said CUPE 873 local president John Strohmaier.

CUPE 873 members point out that a B.C. Labour Relations Board order says they must staff Olympics trials, including the current Sliding Centre trials for luge, bobsleigh and skeleton. Strohmaier says the province has been willing to pay expenses and travel time for paramedics at the Olympics trials - something they have not been willing to provide for B.C. paramedics serving the public.

The trials call for two ambulances – the same as the number allotted for the entire Whistler village. The paramedics say that as many as 20 B.C. communities are left with no ambulances on any given day.

“We believe that if the government is serious about providing the best ambulance service possible it should focus on all our citizens, not just elite athletes.” The paramedics have been on strike since April 1 for better response times, wages, equipment and staffing levels.

COPE 491