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November 23, 2009

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A breakfast grilling for B.C.’s Health Minister

Downtown rally calls on Kevin Falcon to admit Bill 21 error, get back to bargaining table

VANCOUVER—Not surprisingly, the guest of honour avoided the scene by arriving through an underground entrance. But thanks to the spirited cries of “Stop 21!” from about 200 CUPE and other union activists, BC Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon must have got the message loud and clear: they let him know that working people will not tolerate the kind of legislative trampling on collective bargaining rights that the BC Liberals committed with Bill 21, which forced a contract on ambulance paramedics.

At 6:45 this morning (Monday), a large crowd gathered outside Vancouver’s Terminal City Club, where the minister was speaking on his vision for B.C. health care at a breakfast hosted by the BC Chamber of Commerce.

CUPE BC general vice-president Paul Faoro, host of the rally, appealed to the health minister’s sense of reason and fair play in calling for an end to legislative battery.

“All men make mistakes, but only a wise man admits to his mistakes,” said Faoro, citing a famous Churchill quote.

“Mr. Falcon, be a man and come to the table—say you made a mistake, and let’s have a conversation about fixing our ambulance system. Because you can be sure that we’re going to continue to fight for our ambulance service until we have an ambulance service that works for everyone in this province.”

CUPE 873 president John Strohmaier told the crowd they were not just supporting paramedics but the fundamental right of all public employees to negotiate their own collective agreements—a Charter right in Canada.

He also challenged the health minister’s argument for introducing Bill 21.CUPE 873 president John StrohmaierCUPE 873 president John Strohmaier

“Mr. Falcon said he had to do this because of the H1N1 virus,” said Strohmaier. “Well we know that VANOC told him to legislate paramedics, and he did exactly what they told him to do.”

The CUPE 873 president also criticized the government’s choice of Chris Trumpy as the industrial relations commissioner in charge of reviewing the ambulance service.

“It’s a sham,” he said. “They chose someone who has no experience in labour relations, no experience in health care—but who does have experience with Liberal governments. It’s not too late, Kevin, it’s not too late, Gordon, to admit you made a mistake and treat ambulance paramedics with respect and dignity.”

Hospital Employees’ Union president Ken Robinson brought greetings from HEU’s 43,000 members—along with a reminder that the BC Liberals have done this kind of thing before.

“HEU members know from Bill 29 in 2002,” Robinson said. “How did that work for you, Gordon? HEU took that bill all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and won. And we know from the legislated rollbacks in 2004. Bill 21does not respect paramedics. It’s about privatizing the service.”

Robinson said that HEU—CUPE’s health services division in B.C.—would stand beside ambulance paramedics for the collective bargaining rights of all.

“We will stand beside you wherever you are, any day of the week, to make sure we keep public services in this province.”

Faoro reminded the public that rallies would be held around the province and that a movement was growing in support of the paramedics. He closed the rally by offering Falcon the best media opportunity of all.

“Your website actually says ‘Our goal is to find a resolution to your situation.’ Well, Mr. Falcon, we want a resolution to this situation,” said Faoro. “You want to make British Columbia the best place on earth. Well, in a few months a lot of people are coming here from around the world. What an opportunity to announce that we’ve made B.C. ambulance paramedics the best ambulance service in the world.”


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