Calgary councillor claims health minister was condescending, adversarial in EMS dispatch discussion
CALGARY -- Ward 13 councillor Dianne Colley-Urquhart says Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro tried to 'mansplain' changes the province hopes to make to EMS dispatch during a phone call on Friday.
"It was (kind) of adversarial, condescending, - put me on notice. The damsel in distress doesn't understand the question, so maybe I need to explain things to her," said Coun. Colley-Urquhart of the conversation.
The call took place after Calgary city council received a letter from the health minister outlining the reasons the province says it wants to proceed with a consolidation of EMS dispatching , removing it from Calgary’s 911 call centre.
In the letter, Shandro says "There will be no delays in emergency response and Albertans who request EMS will notice no change."
Documents supplied by the health ministry show that the province pays the City of Calgary close to $6 million per year for ambulance dispatch.
The minister’s press secretary, Steve Buick said, "The saving is not the driver of the decision; we’re making this change because it’s how the system is intended to work and how it does work in 60 per cent of the province. But it’s fair to point out that the City does not want to lose $6 m in revenue.”
Buick added that 60 per cent of Alberta is already served by AHS dispatch, with no delays in ambulance dispatch compared to Calgary. He also points to Edmonton, which has marginally faster ambulance dispatch, and where AHS handles the dispatch.
Colley-Urquhart and many of her city council colleagues dispute the minister's claim, saying the change will result in longer waits for people needing emergency medical help. She says her opposition to the plan appears to have touched a nerve with the health minister.
"The spirit of his call was actually to tell me to get my facts straight, that I really didn't know that what I was saying was not true and that he was there to correct my understanding," said Colley-Urquhart. "I've been on council for 20 years and I'm a healthcare professional. So I very, very much understand what the concerns are of dismantling 911 and the prolonged length of time that it would take if EMS is not part of police, fire, and EMS."
According to Colley-Urquhart, the conversation was a one-sided rant in which Shandro did not let her speak. "I tried to ask him several questions and he kept talking over me. So he wasn't really interested in what I had to say or what I was explaining."
The minister's press secretary says Colley-Urquhart is misrepresenting both the nature and the tone of the call.
"This was a normal conversation between two elected officials on opposite sides of an issue," said Steve Buick in a written statement to CTV News. "It was not confrontational beyond the fact that they disagree. Minister Shandro offered her the chance to make her case and she did so, as politicians do every day. It’s not "demeaning" or "dismissive" to respectfully disagree."
Colley-Urquhart stands by her description of the call. "I was really, really disappointed. I thought, how could he possibly talk to people like this as a minister," said the councilor. "But, then again as a health professional, I know how he's talked to the physicians in this province.
"So that is my worry here. That he's just going to bulldoze his way through this (EMS consolidation) and not know the consequences of what is going to happen to our citizens."
Mayor Nenshi sides with his council colleague who is accusing Shandro of bullying councilors who voice dissent with provincial changes
"He seems to have time to call and berate people on issues, rather than dealing with the issues." said Nenshi. "This is a pattern of behavior, as we know, with this minister of calling or trying to intimidate people who disagree with him, particularly people he knows.
"That is beneath him."
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams says this dispute with a Calgary councilor look like part of an ongoing pattern of provincial ministers acting without any sense of diplomacy.
"There's no question that this is something that some in government and certainly Jason Kenney is comfortable with. I don't think it's as effective as working with people," said Williams "It's certainly not going to appeal to voters. They don't care what the battles are. They don't care what the blame game is all about. What they care about is finding solutions. And if they see their elected representatives, not willing to engage in meaningful discussions about solutions, I think that's going to hurt them."
Colley-Urquhart, a long time conservative, says she still supports Jason Kenney but is asking the premier to remove his health minister from the EMS talks.
"He has not provided any detail at all about how this is going to improve EMS response times. I believe that that is a red herring," said Colley-Urquhart "So he can attack me and go after me all he wants, but that is not going to stop Calgarians from speaking out. I am asking the premier to intervene, and have someone speak on this issue that is informed. And that has the temperament to do the job.
Shandro’s press secretary says the minster will be meeting with Mayor Nenshi and three other mayors affected by the province’s proposed EMS changes in the next few weeks to discuss the ambulance dispatch transition.