Ford government to merge ambulance services across Ontario

The Ford government plans to merge the 59 local ambulance services in Ontario into just 10, CBC News has learned.

59 operators of paramedic and emergency health services would be consolidated into 10

The Ford government wants to merge all municipal and local paramedic operations into 10 regional ambulance providers, sources with knowledge of the plan tell CBC News. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The Ford government intends to merge the 59 local ambulance services in Ontario into just 10, CBC News has learned. 

The plan is hinted at in the budget tabled last week by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, with a passing reference to "integrating emergency health services into Ontario's health care system."

"The government will streamline the way land ambulance dispatch services are delivered by better integrating Ontario's 59 emergency health services operators and 22 dispatch centres," says the document, without providing details.

"The government is exploring new models of care and delivery for emergency health services to improve care for patients and reduce duplication," the budget adds.

Two sources with knowledge of the streamlining tell CBC News that government will merge all municipal and local paramedic operations into 10 regional ambulance providers. 

The government is also reducing the number of public health units to 10, but it is not clear if the ambulance services will be operated along the same lines. 

Premier Doug Ford was asked about the ambulance system mergers during a news conference Tuesday in Markham. He offered a guarantee that the number of paramedics in Ontario will not be reduced. (CBC)

The Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs is holding what it describes as an "emergency meeting" about the merger plan. 

"No paramedic in Ontario will lose their job. Just the opposite," said a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott in an email to CBC News on Tuesday. "As we move our modernization agenda forward, we are working directly alongside frontline paramedics and our municipal partners to ensure emergency health services can better meet the needs of Ontario's communities." 

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario says it is shocked and deeply concerned by the news.

"There is no ready information on the government's plan to do this restructuring, how it was determined, let alone what happens to cost-sharing," says a memo from the group's executive director, Pat Vanini, which was obtained by CBC News. 

Municipal governments currently contribute about $720 million to ambulance services, while the province chips in $580 million, according to the memo. 

Premier Doug Ford was asked about the ambulance system merger plan at a news conference in Markham on Tuesday. 

"We're just reviewing that right now," Ford said. "Nothing is carved in stone, but we're going to look at everything." 

Ford said the government will consult to see if it can deliver ambulance service more efficiently, but promised no paramedics will lose jobs in the mergers.

"There's always going to be the same number of paramedics, 100 per cent, that's a guarantee," Ford said.


Mike Crawley

Provincial affairs reporter

Mike Crawley is a senior reporter for CBC News, covering provincial affairs in Ontario. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. He was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.