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EMS should be an essential service, Etobicoke councillor says

When it comes to saving actual human lives, people really don’t mind some redundancy in the system.

Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby wants to take away the right to strike from Toronto's ambulance workers, making them an essential service.

Her motion, backed by a member of the mayor's executive, Councillor Michael Thompson, will be considered next week at city council.

"It's just common sense," Ms. Lindsay Luby said. "I think the paramedics are very well qualified to be an essential service. They are in many ways the guardians of public health."

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The designation requires a change to legislation by the Ontario government, something Councillor Thompson said he believes is overdue. "This is something that I have steadfastly supported for some time," he said.

If the move is successful, paramedics would become the second group of city workers to lose their right to strike since Mayor Rob Ford came to office. Transit workers were declared essential by the province earlier this year following a similar request by city council.

As for the potential increase in the wage bill that could result from the change, which could send future negotiations to arbitration for settlement, both councillors said any added expense would be worth it. "What does it cost the public in this case not to have it?" Ms. Luby asked.

During the Toronto strike by outside workers in 2009, EMS operated at 75 per cent staffing levels, leading to questions about the service's ability to respond to emergencies.

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