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VANCOUVER—More than 50 activists and staff who work in CUPE’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) sector met for a two-day conference on July 8 and 9.

CUPE 873 provincial president John Strohmaier, whose local hosted the conference, was joined by CUPE national president Paul Moist and CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill in welcoming participants.

Strohmaier acknowledged the support of CUPE national and the B.C. division in making the conference a success.

With some 10,000 EMS CUPE members across the country, Moist said that CUPE ’s experience and voice are critical to improving funding and delivery of these important services throughout Canada, and in ensuring that EMS staff have the respect, compensation and working conditions they deserve.

O’Neill talked about how important the work of EMS members is to the safety and stability of communities in B.C. and across the country.

The conference featured a look at the future of Emergency Medical Services in Canada, a review of bargaining and workplace issues from locals, and workshops covering many topics, including implementing CUPE’s National Strategic Plan for the EMS sector, succession planning, leadership development, and professional colleges and associations. 

Delegates heard a report on the deaths of paramedics Kim Weitzel, 44, and Shawn Currier, 21, at Sullivan Mine in Kimberly B.C. in May 2006. CUPE 873 members Bronwyn Barter and BJ Chute gave a report on the coroner’s inquest and Kimberly paramedic Grant Farquhar, who trained and began his career with Kim in 2000, also spoke.

Farquhar said that the event changed his Farquhar said that the event changed his life and gave him a new appreciation for CUPE and for the CUPE 873 executive, who were a tremendous support to all the Kimberly members. A bench in memory of the fallen paramedics has been sponsored in Kimberly’s pedestrian mall, known as Platzl.

For many delegates it was their first national conference and their first visit to Vancouver. 
CUPE 3642 president Martin Doyon, representing emergency medical dispatchers in Montreal, said that the conference was not only his first time in Vancouver, but also his first time on an airplane. Doyon said that it is energizing to be with his CUPE colleagues from across the country, especially since his local has been without a collective agreement since 2003, due partly to legislative and political changes in Quebec.


Annie MacPhee (CUPE 3324 PEI) at work with Gerard McKen (CUPE 4848 New Brunswick) and CUPE National representative Debbie Gervais (Alberta)


Annie MacPhee, a PEI paramedic for the past 17 years, found her first national EMS conference “pretty amazing” and hopes it is the first of many.  “Knowing that we are not alone in our battles, and learning from others who have found ways to deal with tough issues,” she said, are some of the key things that she will take away from the conference.

Norm Robillard, a 22-year paramedic and member of CUPE 503 in Ottawa, said that given the significant generational shift occurring in the sector and his workplace, his priority is to help find ways to get young and new members more involved in the union. 

In his closing comments, John Strohmaier said that participants clearly found the opportunity to meet useful and that CUPE members in the EMS sector across the country look forward to working together at future meetings.

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