Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at the Rideau Club in Ottawa on March 12, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The fight over how emergency calls are dispatched in large swaths of Alberta is escalating, with one community ditching the province’s new centralized system and the government responding with a lawsuit to block the move.

Alberta last month forced a number of municipalities to switch to the provincial dispatch system for emergency medical services, despite local politicians in Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Calgary arguing the consolidated system would be inefficient and put residents at risk. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which encompasses Fort McMurray, went further Thursday, reverting to its old dispatch system at noon. Mayor Don Scott, who has the support of council, dared Premier Jason Kenney to retaliate.

“It’s a matter of life and death,” Mr. Scott said. “I believe defiance and resistance is appropriate in those situations.”

Story continues below advertisement

He added: “I challenge the province to remove me as the mayor.”

The fight over 911 goes beyond centralized dispatchers mixing up addresses and slower response times for ambulances. It reflects the deteriorating relationship between the provincial government and its municipal counterparts, with local leaders alleging politicians in Edmonton shunt aside community concerns and expertise. Officials in Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Wood Buffalo have all complained about delayed services as a result of 911 calls being routed through Alberta Health Services’ consolidated system.

“It’s indicative of the relationship that the province has with municipalities at this point and how they treat what should be partners,” Mr. Scott said. “There’s a relationship of conflict from beginning to end.”

Wood Buffalo’s Emergency Services Fire Chief Jody Butz said officials in his community were monitoring 911 calls from his area when they were being handled out of AHS’s dispatch centre in Peace River. Wood Buffalo had to “intervene” in about 20 per cent of incidents, he said.

Chris Spearman, the mayor of Lethbridge, is investigating whether his city should follow Wood Buffalo’s lead. Lethbridge has just six ambulances, which are backstopped by firefighters who are trained as paramedics, he said. This gave local dispatchers more flexibility when sending help to medical emergencies, but this option is getting lost in the consolidated system, Mr. Spearman said.

“The system is not working,” he said. “We’re getting no accountability and no dialogue.”

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is also frustrated by the lack of transparency. The Premier’s office bumps concerns to the Health Minister, who routes them to AHS’s chief paramedic, she said. The province, she said, was not ready for the transition.

Story continues below advertisement

“The status quo is unacceptable.”

Mr. Kenney said the decision to centralize EMS dispatch came out of the work of government panels that spent years looking at the issue.

“The provincial central dispatch has worked extremely well for well over 95 per cent of the province’s municipalities, so this is just a natural step forward,” Mr. Kenney said. “We’re absolutely committed to this change. We think it’s the best thing in terms of service, as well as efficiency. It served the province well and it should serve all municipalities well.”

Alberta on Thursday afternoon filed an injunction in the Court of Queen’s Bench to block Wood Buffalo’s decision to abandon the consolidated system.

“This is not a step we take lightly, however it is necessary to ensure ambulances continue to be dispatched appropriately, and that patient care is not put at risk,” AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson said in a statement. “The municipality has not provided any evidence to AHS to suggest that the recent consolidation of EMS dispatch has led to any delays or inappropriate responses.”

AHS said it looked into every complaint that has been raised so far, and “there have been no issues or intervention required by the municipality,” Mr. Williamson said.

Story continues below advertisement

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies