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N.B. health minister retracts regional hiring policy, says every ambulance must provide bilingual service

WATCH: New Brunswick's commissioner of official languages is welcoming a new policy from the New Brunswick government that will require every ambulance in the province to be capable of providing service in both English and French. Morganne Campbell has more.

New Brunswick Health Minister Ted Flemming has walked back a policy he announced in December that would have weakened bilingual requirements for the province’s ambulance services in an attempt to alleviate hiring shortages.

Instead, a letter dated Jan. 18 and addressed to the CEO and chair of Ambulance New Brunswick (ANB) says that every ambulance in the province must be capable of providing service in both English and French.

Flemming wrote that the new plan will allow ANB to continue hiring paramedics with the goal of “having all bilingual-designated positions filled with bilingual paramedics.”

READ MORE: Provincial government orders Ambulance NB to scrap bilingual hiring condition

The announcement comes a little more than a month after the provincial government said it would eliminate bilingual hiring requirements in some of the primarily unilingual regions of the province.

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When Flemming announced that plan on Dec. 18, he attempted to brush off questions about whether the policy would violate the government’s obligations under the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick.

“I’m more interested in filling [employee vacancies] than I am in having some academic discussion of the legal nuances,” he said in December.

The province’s commissioner of official languages took exception to the decision, saying it wasn’t compatible with the Official Languages Act of New Brunswick.

But the letter sent on Friday marks a departure from the government’s previous stance, with Flemming noting that he believes the new policy would bring the government in line with the act.

“Our government will ensure New Brunswickers have access to an effective emergency response system for medical emergencies and it’s delivered in respect to our obligations under the Official Languages Act,” wrote Flemming in the letter.

In a teleconference on Monday, Bernard Lord, CEO of Medavie Health, said the new direction ” supersedes” the directives issued in December.

“This is a win, win, win,” said Lord in a conference call on Monday afternoon.

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WATCH: Language commissioner responds to sweeping Ambulance NB changes

Language commissioner responds to sweeping Ambulance NB changes
Language commissioner responds to sweeping Ambulance NB changes

New ‘float’ team

Flemming’s letter lays out a plan to create float teams, which will end the practice of staffing positions with temporary unilingual paramedics if there are no bilingual paramedics available while providing those temporary unilingual paramedics with permanent full-time positions.

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Under the new plan, the float teams will staff vacant bilingual positions until a bilingual candidate can be found. Once the vacancy has been filled, the unilingual paramedic on the float team will retain full-time employment and be reassigned to another position “within a reasonable geographic area.”

The goal is to ensure that all emergency ambulance units will eventually be bilingual.

The minister says the plan will reduce the number of vacant bilingual positions from 60 to approximately 20.