Hospital emergency departments are essential, no doubt. Ditto police, fire, rescue and ambulance services.
Anything concerned with health and safety, including access to food and clean water could be understood to be essential to our society.
Certain aspects of the public-transportation system might also be considered essential for those otherwise incapable for getting themselves from point A to point B, or perhaps even waste removal, should the issue become a health issue.
But can any part of the education process be deemed an essential service, as the Labour Relations Board determined last week in the provincial government’s so-far failed negotiations with teachers?
Make no mistake, having schools behind picket lines is a huge and undeniable inconvenience – for students, for parents, for teachers and, it’s assumed, for government. So is any delay in receiving marks and transcripts, particularly when deadlines loom for entry to the next level of education. Given the inherent imperfections of the system, and the possibility of human error, any impediment to education is likely to have multiple ramifications.
All this is granted.
But as essential as education may be in the long term, in the short term it’s doubtful the temporary absence of any part of the educational chain poses a threat to life and limb.
And there’s a certain irony, surely, to a government terming provincial exams for Grades 10-12 and finals marks for grads as an essential service, when the crux of the argument for striking workers is that for years education has been treated as anything but.
If the service is essential, one might argue it is essential to maintain it and pay for it.
The provincial government says the current demands of teachers for what is argued to be parity of pay in other areas is unreasonable and unsupportable in this economy. The teachers, on the other hand, say it is a bill past due – just as concerns about class size and composition could, and probably should, have been addressed in more economically certain times.
Historians have often observed that peacetime problems of shortage of food and lodging and social services are always magically eradicated once war is declared. While the conservative mantra of “one can’t spend what one doesn’t have” sounds reasonable, it’s harder to maintain when, at a moment’s notice, the goal posts can be moved by government fiat.