Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that people have power.
We’re just regular folks, after all. We work hard, we raise our families, we pay our bills, but the real power lies in the hands of governments and big employers, right? What can we little guys do?
The answer is: We can do a lot.
The trick is that we have to work together and we have to get involved.
One year ago, on Nov. 15, 2017, HSAA organized a lobby day at the Legislature in Edmonton.
About 50 HSAA paramedic members from across the province braved cold weather and poor road conditions to come to Edmonton to demand the government provide more resources to front-line Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
This was a full-day event. Members volunteered because they understood the importance of telling elected officials about the shortage of EMS resources and the devastating effect it was having on the level of care being provided to Albertans and on working conditions and the mental health of paramedics.
Earlier that year, the government had announced in its budget that spending on ambulance services was going to be cut – and that this would be followed by a two-year spending freeze. This was the trigger that led to the concerted effort to push for change.
HSAA immediately issued a press release and made the issue a leading news item across the province. The union then collected stories from workers about what they were seeing on the front lines. The research department began to gather data, including through Freedom of Information requests, to provide facts and statistics to back up what the members were saying – that there weren’t enough ambulance resources to do the job.
The work then started on organizing the lobby day, so members could give their message to MLAs face to face. The lobby day began with a training session. Then, armed with their personal stories and the statistics, they went in groups of two or three and had meetings with 33 MLAs.
A media briefing was held on the steps of the Legislature in order to keep the issue in front of the public.
The work did not stop on Nov. 15, however. Our members told us that because of the training and preparation they received, they enjoyed the lobbying and came away with a sense of solidarity and empowerment. This allowed them to go to their home constituencies and raise the issues with MLAs there as well. HSAA continued to successfully raise the issue in mainstream media until the government’s next budget.
The result of all this work?
When the Alberta government presented its budget in March 2018, it boosted spending on ambulance services by $23 million. Instead of a two-year freeze, it announced it planned to boost spending by a further five per cent and six per cent for the following two years.
The government was clear that it was HSAA members who had the largest effect on their funding decisions.
We know that this boost in funding will not solve all the problems facing EMS, but it is a step in the right direction.
We showed that the best chance we have to effect real change for patients and members is when we get involved and when we act in solidarity.
This is why HSAA must be politically engaged. To find out more about our political engagement, click here. To follow our ongoing Health Matters campaign, click here. For an inspiring presentation on the power we have, click here.
Meanwhile, just to let you know we’re not alone in our position on getting involved, here’s what some other great thinkers have had to say on the subject:
Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.
-Dolores Huerta, U.S. labour leader and civil-rights activist.
Politics matter. Ideas matter. Democracy matters.
– Jack Layton, former leader of Canada’s NDP.
The greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work.
– Tommy Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan and leader of Canada’s NDP