Some members of Langley City council and Mayor Val van den Broek clashed over her signing a joint letter written by Delta mayor George Harvie that asks the province to expand the range of medical emergencies that firefighters handle, in order to address paramedic shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid crisis.
Van den Broek signed the March 10 joint letter with the mayors of Delta, Port Coquitlam, Richmond, Belcarra, Pitt Meadows, Burnaby, Anmore, White Rock, and North Vancouver.
At the Monday, March 8, meeting, Councillor Paul Albrecht raised the issue, saying he was surprised to see the mayor had signed the letter without consulting with the rest of council, because it appeared to represent a change of position by Langley City, which has lobbied for more paramedics.
Albrecht said increasing the types of medical emergencies Langley City firefighters handle amounts to “downloading” costs by having fire crews, who are funded by the City, perform work handled by paramedics, who are funded by the province.
“That’s not fair to our taxpayers and our tax rates,” Albrecht said.
Coun. Gail Martin said the letter had been “arbitrarily signed” by the mayor without council input.
Van den Broek said she viewed signing the letter as showing support for Delta in “getting a conversation started” with the province about the need for more paramedics, and it worked.
“The province is finally talking to us [about the paramedic shortage],” van den Broek said.
“I think it was a good thing.”
Coun. Rudy Storteboom was concerned the letter may have opened the door to allow the province to download even more.
“The fire service was never intended to be a medical emergency service,” Storteboom warned.
Coun. Teri James told the mayor “a decision of this significance should have been run by your council.”
“I’m just curious why you arbitrarily signed that letter without consultation, which essentially changed the trajectory of what we’ve been fighting for since 2014,” James commented.
The mayor disagreed that it represented a change and went on to say that James and other members of council did not bring their concerns directly to her.
“Calling me out like this in front of [the] public is not acceptable,” the mayor complained.
“Any one of you could have contacted me.”
At Coun. Nathan Pachal’s suggestion, council voted to have staff prepare a discussion paper on the issue.
In response to a Pachal question, Langley City CAO Francis Cheung said “75 to 80 per cent” of Langley City fire department calls in an average year have been for medical assistance, though that has dropped during the pandemic.
“We are struggling to actually be able to go to all those medical calls,” Cheung remarked, adding there needs to be a “cost recovery model” for the city.
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