Editorial – People help when needed

Jeff Burgar

Usually, when one hears the front lines of a disaster are overwhelmed, in complete disarray, or simply outnumbered, many first thoughts are “call in the military.”

Sandbags need filling? Trees blown over and need clearing? Thousands of power lines downed because of ice storms? Stranded people from floods? The military has trucks. People power. Boats. Housing and food and kitchens that can mobilize.

In northern Alberta, we don’t have the luxury of an army base just down the road. A particular example that comes to mind is forest fires. Conscription for firefighters used to be a fact of life. The usual course was for government agents to scour local bars, rounding up the able bodies and trucking them off to the fire lines. If there weren’t enough bodies, next stops were restaurants. Then stopping vehicles on the streets. This was all done through emergency powers granted to governments. The powers are likely still on the books.

In these modern times, it is more likely a call for volunteers would be made. Just as likely, if not more so, firefighters in particular, but doctors and nurses and other professionals [lawyers and accountants and journalists usually do not qualify!] would find a way to help.

The Quebec provincial government acted two weeks ago. Faced with daunting shortages of manpower in nursing homes, the politicians looked around for people on government payrolls paid to well, being paid to do not too much. So, they said, round ‘em up and send them to today’s forest fires: Care homes and hospitals. That’s exactly what the Quebec politicians, in their wisdom, decided. Send in teachers!

According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, “education workers in several provinces, including Quebec, are already working in daycare settings to watch the children of essential workers.”

The same newspaper also reports unions and school boards don’t like the care home idea. They say “Quebec’s decree takes daycare work a step further. It moves employees to a sector where they do not necessarily have training.”

Not to demean janitors and daycare workers, where people are needed, does this mean the unions thinks such jobs too complicated for their members? Perhaps.

Meanwhile, Heidi Yetman, head of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, which represents English-sector teachers in the province, said her understanding is that education workers could be called upon in regions with fewer backup health care workers. She said the government can override collective agreements in an emergency situation, but she worries about the training for education workers who are redeployed to health.

It should also be noted, the call to action so far has been to nurse students and nurse instructors and other health care instructors. Training not needed there. Not forced labour either.


Calls for volunteers are being answered. All in all, an interesting, and a response stemming from history, to this difficult situation.

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