CALGARY -- The ongoing dispute over the Alberta government’s decision to consolidate EMS dispatch continues with the mayors of four communities, including Calgary, calling on Premier Jason Kenney to step in and reverse the change.

The province made the decision on Friday to go forward with plans to centralize 911 dispatch in Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray).  

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has been a very vocal opponent to the move, believes discussions with the province were a wasted effort as it appears the decision had already been made.

"It was pretty shocking when the minister of health sends a Friday afternoon letter when there is a meeting booked with all the MLAs this week," Nenshi said Monday. "This is very clear, they already had this plan. They didn’t care what the facts were, they didn’t care what the data was and they made a decision that’s endangering people’s lives."

The four communities currently run their own dispatch centres but will soon join others across Alberta that have been under provincial control for a decade.

The move only affects ambulance dispatch, not police or firefighters, and is expected to save the province about $6 million every year.

Nenshi wants Calgary to keep control of its ambulance dispatch, saying things should be operated at a local level because it allows help to get to patients faster.

In a letter to the four mayors, Health Minister Tyler Shandro rejected any notion consolidating 911 dispatch is an unwanted risk or step into the unknown, citing similar models in Canadian provinces and in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

Nenshi accuses the minister of ignoring crucial evidence in making his decision and says the province finally provided response time data to the mayors late Monday, but told them the data can’t be shared with the public. The mayor didn’t mince words when laying out what he hopes to see from the government moving forward.

"We can hope the premier can call his health minister to account but this health minister seems to get away with a lot."

EMS union on board with planned change

The union representing Alberta’s paramedics says the move to centralize EMS dispatch in the four communities is one that is long overdue.

“I’m glad it’s done. We’ve been waiting a long time to get this structure built for our paramedics,” said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

Parker says there’s been a “hodgepodge of dispatch scattered across the province” for years.

“Today, a coordinated centre province-wide is exactly what we’ve been needing for a long time," he said.

The union representing firefighters worries there may be a communication breakdown between paramedics and other emergency responders in the city.

“We believe, part of this 911 dispatch changing from our integrated Calgary model, which has a lot of horsepower, to being removed — that is going to delay fire response times,” said Mike Osborne of the Calgary Firefighters Association.

AHS employees currently provide dispatch services for about 60 per cent of the province, including the City of Edmonton.

The change is expected to be completed by January.