Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Paramedics union optimistic after ambulance bosses mysteriously quit

The reason for the departure of British Columbia's top-ranking ambulance officials is shrouded in secrecy.

B.C. Emergency Health Services president Michael MacDougall and B.C. Ambulance Service chief operating officer Les Fisher were suspended Dec. 22, and the public was informed March 27 that they quit after an investigation by Vancouver law firm Roper Greyell.

"We don't have any facts on the matter and I don't know if we ever will," said Bronwyn Barter, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. (CUPE 378). "We just want to move forward and get back to what we do."

The Provincial Health Services Authority oversees BCAS. Board chair Wynne Powell said nothing criminal happened.

"There was no fraud, there was no wastage, that we're aware, of financial assets on behalf of the public," he said. "This particular issue is strictly a personal matter between employer and employees, and I am restricted by the privacy regulations and the requirement that it be handled in the appropriate way."

Asked what section of the BCAS code of conduct was breached, Powell declined to say. "Well, now you are asking to go into the content of this report and I can't, underneath the privacy regulations, disclose that. I'm sorry, I wish I could."

Powell again refused to give details when asked whether the suspensions and investigation were ordered because of how MacDougall or Fisher interacted with a subordinate or contractor.

"I can't comment whether they're right or wrong," Powell said. "But the review that was done by an outside legal firm was extremely thorough; it was done from Dec. 22 until a few days ago. The board received the report and management discussed it with the two individuals and they decided to resign as a result of that report."

MacDougall's salary for the year-ended March 31, 2013 was $277,412, while Fisher was paid $184,831.

During the suspensions, PHSA interim CEO Carl Roy took on MacDougall's role and BCAS executive director Peter Thorpe replaced Fisher.

Barter said BCAS morale hit an all-time low last year and paramedics have "been in limbo" for the past three months during the investigation. A new payroll software system rolled out under MacDougall and Fisher caused widespread late or errant paycheques for paramedics in 2013. A controversial new resource allocation plan was also instituted, reducing the number of calls for ambulances with lights and sirens activated.

A report to Vancouver city council on April 1 by city manager Penny Ballem and fire chief John McKearney said BCAS's unilateral decision to downgrade many types of calls from emergency to routine was done without public or municipal consultation. They claimed it is stretching fire department resources and putting lives at risk.

Since the change, data shows ambulances are taking 21 minutes longer to show up than firefighters. The report to council included examples of calls treated routinely by BCAS that should have been treated with more urgency.

"We're optimistic about someone new coming in and taking a look at these issues and hopefully moving everything forward with us," said Barter.

One of the first challenges, however, is contractual. The current collective bargaining agreement expired March 31.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus