New Brunswick

Flemming presses for relaxed bilingual hiring rules for paramedics as judicial review looms

New Brunswick's health minister says he still wants changes to hiring requirements for paramedics implemented immediately — despite comments by a cabinet colleague that they could be delayed.

Weakened rules would affect areas where there's low demand for second-language service

Health Minister Ted Flemming still wants to immediately implement bilingual hiring changes despite the looming judicial review. (CBC)

New Brunswick's health minister says he still wants changes to hiring requirements for paramedics implemented immediately — despite comments by a cabinet colleague that they could be delayed.

Deputy Premier Robert Gauvin said in a Dec. 21 interview that Medavie, the company that operates Ambulance New Brunswick, would try to stall the changes until after a judicial review later this month.

But a spokesperson for Ted Flemming said the minister still wants the changes, which would weaken bilingual requirements for some paramedic positions, put in effect immediately.

"Nothing has changed with respect to the management problem concerning the lack of bilingual paramedics," said Bruce Macfarlane. "There is a shortage of bilingual paramedics and we have to manage it."

Gauvin told Radio-Canada on the Friday before Christmas that he had spoken to Medavie CEO Bernard Lord and the changes are "not implemented as we speak … and they're trying to delay it as long as possible until the review." 

Robert Gauvin, the government's only francophone MLA and minister, also distanced himself from Ted Flemming's comments last month. (CBC News file photo)

In an email Wednesday, Medavie spokesperson Chisholm Pothier would not comment on Gauvin's conversation with Lord, a former Progressive Conservative premier.

He said the company "will continue to respect our obligations" under the Official Languages Act. He did not say when Medavie would comply with the province's directive.

New requirements

On Dec. 18 Flemming asked Ambulance New Brunswick to "immediately implement" the recommendations in a 2018 ruling by labour arbitrator John McEvoy.

They include relaxed bilingual hiring requirements in areas of the province where the government believes there's low demand for second-language service. 

In those areas, Ambulance New Brunswick is being told to temporarily fill positions with unilingual paramedics and no longer re-post the vacancies every eight weeksMcEvoy's ruling will be the subject of a judicial review Jan. 24 to determine if the recommendations violate bilingualism obligations in the Official Languages Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The previous Liberal government asked for the review because McEvoy's ruling appeared to contradict a 2017 consent order that settled a Moncton lawsuit.

Ambulances are never off the road because of language requirements.- Medavie spokesperson Chisholm Pothier

In the order, signed by Justice Zoël Dionne, the province acknowledged it is required to provide bilingual ambulance service in all parts of the province. Lawyers for both the province and Ambulance New Brunswick signed the order and agreed to follow it.

Gauvin predicted in his Dec. 21 interview that the judicial review will quash McEvoy's recommendations.

"I know in a couple of months it'll be sorted out in our favour," he said. "By that I mean those who support bilingualism."

Medavie to comply with Official Languages Act

Pothier said after Flemming's announcement that Medavie would have "discussions with government to fully understand yesterday's announcement and the letter it sent us."

He also said Medavie would fulfill the terms of its contract with the province, "including complying with New Brunswick's Official Languages Act."Pothier also disagreed with Flemming's rationale that relaxing bilingual hiring requirements would allow idle ambulances to get back on the road.

"Ambulances are never off the road because of language requirements," he said, explaining that Ambulance New Brunswick always calls in unilingual paramedics when a bilingual position can't be filled.

Health Minister Ted Flemming wants to weaken bilingual hiring requirements for temporary full-time paramedics in certain areas of the province. (CBC)

Flemming himself said in November that ambulance delays were "not a language issue … This is a labour supply problem." But on Dec. 18 he said relaxing the bilingual requirements would allow for faster response times to ambulance calls.

Ambulance New Brunswick is operated by Medavie but answers to a board of directors made up entirely of employees of the provincial government and the two regional health authorities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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