Month: March 2017

It Should Not Need A Plea For Service

If you were paying attention while watching the grim pictures of the recent terror attack in London you should have noted small groups of paramedics quietly carrying out their duties. Their ambulances stood in orderly lines, back doors open wide awaiting the victims, some with horrendous injuries, a few with minor cuts and bruises, all in shock.

The paramedics were easy to spot. They were the ones moving calmly through the chaos. They carried no guns, only a quality of well-trained mercy. Among the victims were three French children, thankfully among those with minor injuries. Among the adults were two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks and 12 Britons. They all received the same level of highly professional care from the well-trained first responders.

We see similar response team reactions on a daily basis in British Columbia as our teams of paramedics respond to mayhem on our highways. The last full year of statistics (2015) listed 300 fatal highway accidents. Paramedics would have attended most if not all – plus the hundreds more which did not result in death but produced injuries as horrendous as those on Westminster Bridge in London.

And, as we watch local television stations bring us pictures of tangled cars and blanket-shrouded victims, our local paramedics, policemen and firemen calmly go about their business of attending to the injured and attempting to restore normal traffic flow. It is what we expect from our first responders and consequently we hold them in high regard for the dedication they take to their often unpleasantly bloody, highly stressful tasks.

We appreciate them, but our appreciation is not reflected in what we pay them – especially the paramedics. Still, they answer our cries for help whenever and wherever we make them, from highway crashes to strokes or heart attacks to simple falls at home at high noon or midnight when the rest of the world is asleep.

As the father of a paramedic, I have an interest in such things – and a possible bias. So, I turn to ex-Saanich policeman Bill Turner for evidence which might be suspect just coming from me. Bill has been active in recent weeks collecting signatures on a petition asking the provincial government to declare BC Ambulance Paramedics an essential service and thus group them with other key first responders – police and fire department personnel.

In a recent blog ( Bill wondered if people were aware that newly qualified BC paramedics are paid $2 an hour when they are on standby, usually “in a remote location … Only if they get a call-out are they paid a real wage … Often the cost of travel (they have to pay their own way from home to their station) exceeds the pay received … This near slavery condition can go on for years (about five years is the average) then if they are lucky they can land a slightly better ‘on call’ job where they receive minimum wage on standby …”

It is no wonder, Bill reflects, that after training and being treated like poor relations, many young people, their high ambition stifled, “seek work in other fields … It is a terrible situation for paramedics and bad for the citizens of BC” to lose a force of highly trained, dedicated first responders.

Within hours of the attack in London, BC Premier Christy Clark issued a “shocked and saddened” statement on “the tragic events.” She recalled that an earlier generation of Londoners when under attack “kept calm and carried on and I have no doubt this one will too.”

Her final thoughts were “with the victims, and the emergency and security personnel who risk their lives to keep us safe.” Even as I murmur “amen” to those well-chosen words, I wonder if the Premier would care to go one conscience-propelled step beyond and declare that if re-elected in May she will grant her paramedics, who stand shoulder to shoulder with others who keep us safe, the recognition they deserve and the pay and working conditions they have more than earned.

It could be a win-win promise, a voters’ popular choice: Paramedics finally promoted and formally recognized for what they have always been, a highly-appreciated essential service. But I don’t expect miracles. Government insiders say the move to pay paramedics would be too costly. It can only be the thinking of bureaucrats or politicians who have never had to call an ambulance and have no concept of what our first responder services would cost citizens with urgent need if left to free market forces.

It’s a public need for a public service as part of humanitarian health service. And it should not need a petitioners’ plea to bring it into being.

The Sins of Our Fathers

While Canada cranks up to celebrate its 150th birthday, it might behoove residents of British Columbia to remember that our forebears did not cover themselves with glory in the years of transition from colony to country. In fact, some of the decisions made by our first provincial governments still rattle like skeletons in a closet we strive mightily to close.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, BC elected its first provincial Legislature in 1871 when 3,804 voters elected 25 MLAs to serve for four years. The “estimated” population of BC at the time was “about 11,000,” mostly English immigrants with a sprinkling of European and Americans left over from the gold rush days – plus a native population, decimated by small pox epidemics, estimated at about 23,000.

It didn’t take long for the new government to get to work on thorny issues. During its first session (February to March 1872) it had its first go-round with women seeking the right to vote and indignantly rebuked the ladies with a 23-2 vote rejecting their petition. A little later in the same session, the Legislature gave reluctant approval to An Act To Extend The Rights of Property of Married Women. In today’s context the new rights seem condescending – a couple of chocolates to keep the women happy, but not the full box they were seeking.

Women got the right to vote, but only in municipal elections – and only if they were property owners. The new law “provided that real estate owned by a married woman could be enjoyed by her for her separate use and that a married woman’s wages and earnings would be deemed her own property, free from her husband’s control or debts.”

That was one small step for women’s suffrage which led to the big one in 1917 when women “who qualified as British subjects” were awarded the right to vote – and the right to stand as candidates in future provincial elections. For the record, let it be noted that between 1891 and 1914 some 18 women’s suffrage bills were introduced and defeated in the BC Legislature, but in the end truth and justice prevailed although the battle for equality continues.

So, unfortunately, does at least one other controversial human rights struggle created by super righteous governments. In that first session of the BC Legislature the law makers moved quickly to make sure their right to govern could never be upset by the native population which outnumbered white settlers by more than two to one.

In 1874, before the Legislature adjourned for summer, a new law was placed on the books stating “any person of Indian origin and any immigrant of Chinese origin” was disenfranchised – denied the right to vote. It is true that, in that same piece of legislation, school teachers, public servants, judges, clerics and others were disenfranchised. However, they didn’t stay disenfranchised long. Over the ensuring months, amendments to elections law were introduced to open up the polls and one by one racist and religious disqualifications were ended.

In 1947, Chinese and Hindus were removed from the prohibition list; a year later Mennonites and Hutterites followed.

Last on the list were BC’s First Nations and citizens of Japanese descent. First Nations, never welcomed at the first election polls (1871), were officially disenfranchised in 1874 to make sure they didn’t come even close to a ballot box in the second (1875), then officially cleared to vote for the first time 75 years later in 1949.

The Japanese, who had lost their right to vote in 1895 when “yellow peril” fears swept the province, had their rights restored in 1949 in concert with First Nations. Until 1945 Japan had been a military enemy of Canada and the rest of the western world. Settled Japanese immigrants and their Canadian born children were harshly treated after Pearl Harbour when fear and racism again overwhelmed common sense and decency.
First citizens? Ah, yes, they were here long before the whites came crowding in to claim their land first for the Crown and then for sale to anyone with money. In 1874, some 3,804 British-Canadian residents had voted to elect their first Legislative Assembly. In 1949, with First Nation members tentatively voting for the first time, a grand total of 698,823 registered voters cast ballots. Of that total, in a far northern corner of the province, 746 voters split their Atlin riding votes between two candidates with 370 for W.D. Smith (Coalition), and 376 for Frank Calder, a Nisga’a native chief representing the CCF – now the NDP.
Not a landslide victory but another “small step” leading to a giant stride in May 1998, when the Nisga’a land claim treaty was signed and the Nisga’a had their rights to govern their own destiny restored in 2000. It had taken 111 years since their first claim in 1887 to regain their stolen land. And, it may well take another hundred or so before we finally find a solution to decisions made so long ago in the prevailing racist patriotic feelings of the times.

There’s an old Biblical saying that “the iniquities of the fathers are to be laid on the children.” In BC in 2017, that is an uncomfortable thought leading to two even more uncomfortable ones: (1) Are we as a people, or as individuals, making decisions today that could place our children or future societies in untenable positions decades from now? (2) How do we solve legitimate native lands claims when today’s ownership claims are buried beneath modern ownership rights which are legal but deny ancient rights of inheritance?

The Biblical quote does say the children will be expected to make things right “unto the third or fourth generation” which gives my generation a little more procrastination time. And, the next generation? Well, good luck.

A Call For Support From Our Front Line First Responders

Ever had to call an ambulance in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, for that matter? Ever had to wait for hours for the ambulance to arrive – and then looked at your watch and figured it must have stopped because the hands say it’s less than 15 minutes since you made the call for help?

Maybe the better question should be: Have you ever been the stricken party who needed the emergency call made as you fought heart attack or stroke or injuries sustained in a fall or road accident? If you have ever been there you will remember how long it seemed to take for the paramedics to arrive and how unbelieving you were when told it was minutes not hours.

You should also remember the calm that arrived with the first responders as they went about their well-trained duties, controlled, efficient, in charge of the situation; however dire it may have been. You will remember for as long as memory lasts how you felt –
alone, frightened, deserted by the world; maybe threatened by the last great darkness – and how confident hands reached out and pulled you back into the light; and then wrapped you in warm blankets, gently strapped you to a stretcher, made sure you were snugged down tight in the waiting ambulance and transported with sirens wailing and warning lights flashing to the nearest centre where the full services of medical care could be provided.

If you had the opportunity and ability you probably thanked the attending paramedics – or hoped friends and family had – before they moved on to their next call. If, in the drama of the emergency you forgot, the above preamble is to recall your understandable oversight and suggest a way to make amends.

In British Columbia, fire fighters and policemen have long been declared essential services. Their unions are strong and negotiate freely with a binding arbitration process in place to settle collective agreement deadlocks. Under the Fire and Police Collective Bargaining Act the work force cannot strike and the employer cannot order a lock-out.

It has never been explained why public ambulance and paramedic services are not included in the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act. But excluded they have been – and continue to be – by successive NDP and Liberal governments.

But there is in BC what is called an “initiative process.” BC is the only province or territory to have one. In simple terms, it permits any registered voter to propose a new law or amend an existing law. Here is the address of the Elections BC site:

It is not an easy law to kick into action as citizens who have tried to implement the “recall of MLAs” section can attest. And as public service paramedics and ambulance workers are discovering as they attempt to correct a past government oversight and add ambulance and paramedic service to police and fire emergency services law.

To achieve that aim the Legislature requires that a petition be signed by 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the province’s electoral districts – not 10 per cent of the provincial total which is easier to achieve. Only when that mountain has been climbed will the people in power listen and move to frame a law based on the petitioned initiative.

So, if you have ever called for an ambulance and have good reason to say “thank you” to a paramedic crew, now is the time to do it. And if you have friends in electoral districts other than the one you live in, give them a shout. Tell them the paramedics need a shot of the support they so efficiently provide the rest of us 24/365. Make sure you are a registered voter before you sign the petition. The list will be audited.

Couldn’t the government just introduce an amended bill called the Ambulance, Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act, and thus make paramedics full members of the “emergency services” family? The answer is “yes.” A majority government can bring in whatever laws or amendments to laws it wishes. But no government since 1996 has shown a desire to make the simple changes. New Democrat Premiers Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller, Ujjal Dosanjh and Liberals Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark have done nothing in the 21 years they have been in charge to give paramedics their due.

Maybe they never had to call on paramedic services, which leaves those of us who have, with a duty to perform. Find a petition in your electoral district and if you’re a registered voter, sign it. It’s the best way to say “thank you.”

And if you would like to offer more than a signature in the paramedics’ cause Google – Information – YourParamedics for everything you need to know about the petition, how to volunteer and donate if you feel inclined. One last thing: You must be a registered voter in BC to legitimately sign the petition — and I would hope that with a general election scheduled for May you have already made sure you are.

The Year We Rejected The Opportunity to Call Donald Trump Our President

As British Columbians continue their 150th year of celebration of the July 1867 Act of Confederation and their welcome to join that Confederation and become part of Canada in July 1871, I wonder how many realize how lucky we are things worked out as they did.

I mean, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that West Coasters would rush to join the new union. True, there was a strong body of opinion in the sparsely settled western colony that confederation with Canada and continued links with mother England were the desirable way to face the future. But, it is also true that on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland there was a strong lobby demanding British Columbia join the United States – voluntarily if possible, by annexation as a last resort.

The debate whether to stay with historic British connections or hook-up with the burgeoning and prospering America rumbled in many a tavern as well as local government offices throughout the 1860s. It came to make or break time in 1867 – the year the USA bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. The deal was signed on March 30, 1867 – four months before Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick became Canada.

Still recovering from its bloody civil war (1861-65), America was certainly interested in the possibility of linking Alaska with Washington and Oregon thus giving the USA total control of the Pacific Coast from Mexico to the high north. But, history doesn’t tell us just how close it came to closing that geographic gap by annexing BC.

We do know that even as politicians in 1867 discussed the terms of BC joining Canada, a petition was being circulated in Victoria demanding heavy financial concessions from England if it wished to keep BC in the folds of Empire – or to grant the Colony permission to join the United States. The Library and Archives of Canada tell us that while “it is not known how many signatures the petition gathered, or if indeed the Queen (Victoria) ever received it … it caught the attention of (then) Governor Frederick Seymour and the Colonial Office which resolved to promote union with Canada more vigorously.”

Two years later in 1869, with BC still not safely in the Confederation fold, a second petition with 104 signatures was delivered to newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant. In simple terms, it urged the President to simply annex the Colonies and make them a State of the Union. He declined to act – but the two petitions undoubtedly shaped the thinking of the Canadian representatives at the Confederation bargaining table. It was later stated “the generosity of these terms was met with surprise and even disbelief in British Columbia – but without contest.”

The joy didn’t last long. One of the key promises made to BC was that a railway through the mountains would be built with construction starting within two years and completion promised in 10. In May, 1878, with the project hardly begun, Victoria’s Member of Parliament, Amor De Cosmos, took the floor in the House of Commons to demand speedier action or, he threatened, British Columbia would seek annexation by the United States.

The last spike was driven at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885, five years late but soon enough to silence further talk of annexation. For this, we should all be thankful. In this glorious year of celebration, we can look south thankful that 150 years ago, the pro-USA campaigners lost the battle, thus sparing us from having to acknowledge Donald Trump as our president.