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'There wasn't some kind of backroom conspiracy going on here,' says Mayor

The mayor says the severing of the district social services board from the city did not factor into the city’s decision to increase paramedic staff.

The mayor says the severing of the district social services board from the city did not factor into the city’s decision to increase paramedic staff.

City council voted October 26 for a reorganization of fire services — to cut 20 firefighters and hire 12 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff.

Today, less than a month later, it was announced EMS will be severed from the city and put under control of the Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB).

Mayor Christian Provenzano said the October 26 decision to cut firefighters was not related to the severing of the DSSAB from the city.

“I can tell you unequivocally, in no uncertain terms, the realignment plan didn’t at all relate to what DSSAB is doing. There was no mind paid to what DSSAB was doing,” said Provenzano.

During a firefighter town hall meeting held Sunday, International Association of Fire Fighters 13th District Vice President Fred LeBlanc said putting the firefighter cuts and expansion of EMS on the same motion was an intentional attempt to cause a rift between the two organizations.

“That to me would be a red-flag as a councillor to say, ‘On behalf of my constituents and people of this city, I am going to take a pause,’” said LeBlanc.

He added, “I think that was the sell, it’s going to be a wash and end up saving money.” 

Ward 2 councillor Susan Myers — who is one of six city councillors who sit on the DSSAB board — declined to comment about the fire services realignment.

“The firefighters issue has been dealt with by council. That’s old business,” she said.

This despite Fire Chief Mike Figliola speaking to the reorganization at last night’s council meeting.

Reached today for comment, Figliola said there will be no interruption in EMS service as the process evolves.

“As the fire chief who oversees EMS, my role is to continue doing what I am doing pending any action plan or until I am relieved of my duties,” said Figliola.

Myers deferred any questions about the DSSAB to the board's chair, Janet Gawne.

Gawne said the board will be severed from the city, taking with it EMS, Land Ambulance, Ontario Works, social housing and childcare.

She said Sault Ste. Marie is the last municipality in the region to sever from its DSSAB, the most recent being Thunder Bay.

As a result, city employees who fall under the auspices of the DSSAB will be reorganized.

“We started looking more closely at our governance model and our level of responsibility and accountability and decided we could react more nimbly when there were changes that come along when employees were our direct employees, as opposed to anyone else’s employees,” said Gawne.

Unionized employees who move from being city employees to the DSSAB will remain with the union that currently represents them.

“Obviously we need to negotiate with the unions and the city for this transition to be as smooth as possible. Our intent is to honour the current collective agreements and people who are represented by UNIFOR and CUPE will still be represented in the same way,” Gawne said.

City daycare staff will not become DSSAB employees, though the DSSAB will continue to partially fund city daycares.

“They are not part of our organization at all. The city provides daycare the same as any other provider in the city of Sault Ste. Marie,” said Gawne.

Gawne said there was a complicated funding model in some situations, in which the city and DSSAB move money back and forth in some instances.

“What is happening right now, obviously we contract the services out to the city and they bill the DSSAB for those services. Also as part of the model we receive a portion of our funding from the province. We levy the city, Prince Township and the 31 unincorporated townships in the planning area for the remaining funds within our budget,” said Gawne.

She said the changes have been in the works since last spring and the process will be finalized in September of 2016.

The six councillors who sit on the board would have been aware of the severing of the DSSAB when the decision was made to realign the fire services and increase EMS staff.

The only three councillors to vote against the fire services realignment also sit on the DSSAB.

“That would give you a pretty clear indication there wasn’t some kind of backroom conspiracy going on here,” said Provenzano.

Gawne said the DSSAB will be compelled to hire the eight paramedics and 4 paramedic supervisors the city committed to hiring during the October 26 vote to reorganize fire services.

The mayor said the DSSAB has given notification of termination of the EMS contract with the city.

“I would be quite concerned for the community if the DSSAB wasn’t going to move forward in that respect because it is very clear in this whole fire/EMS realignment, the only thing that we have agreement on from all sides is we need more paramedics,” said Provenzano.

Gawne said she could not say if the DSSAB would have hired the same amount of paramedic staff had the city not already put through the decision to reorganize.

“Since it wasn’t in our purview at the time we haven’t really looked at it. We may have looked at it if we needed to, but at the present time it’s taken care of and we don’t need to look at it.”

(FILE PHOTO: Fire Chief Mike Figliola seen through the screen of a television camera in council chambers. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday)

Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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