What is an essential service?

Region: Ontario Answer # 7005

General definition

In a broad sense, essential services are those “daily services essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning”.

A state of emergency allows governments to exercise extraordinary powers that essentially suspend rights during the time of the crisis. Those powers include controlling movement, forcing people to evacuate an area, closing down public or private places and declaring what is an essential service.

Essential services differ by province

What is considered essential and non-essential is slightly different in each province and territory. Most jurisdictions also have legislation that allows officials to change the list of what is considered non-essential, depending on the situation.

The following is a list of the services most commonly considered to be essential:

Health, medical and social services, such as

  • private professional resources offices (health network)
  • supply chain and technological support staff
  • family medicine and other “frontline” medical staff
  • continuing care (long-term care, licensed supportive living, and home care)
  • private seniors’ residences and services
  • home services for seniors, the disabled and the vulnerable
  • treatment and operating facilities
  • pharmacies
  • dentistry (emergency services)
  • optometry (emergency services)
  • businesses that provide products and/or services that support the health sector

Public safety and security, including

  • Police, fire and EMS and support staff
  • Emergency Services workers – 911 operators, dispatchers and select public works employees that maintain municipal and/or public critical infrastructure
  • provincial help information telephone services (eg. 211, 811 etc)

Food / shelter public services, such as:

  • public transportation
  • grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores and similar markets
  • pet food stores
  • beer, wine and liquor stores and alcohol producers
  • cannabis stores and cannabis producers
  • restaurant takeout facilities and food delivery services
  • hotels, motels, rental units and similar facilities
  • auto repair shops
  • garbage collection
  • pharmacies
  • gas stations
  • hardware stores
  • office supply stores
  • safety supply stores

Other essential services include:

  • energy and utilities
  • water
  • industrial
  • petroleum, natural gas, and coal
  • construction
  • agricultural and horticultural
  • financial services
  • information and telecommunications

What is usually considered a non-essential service?

  • casinos
  • museums and art galleries
  • gyms, swimming pools and arenas
  • salons and spas
  • shopping malls (unless they offer essential services)
  • tattoo studios
  • concert venues
  • libraries
  • community centres
  • children’s play centres
  • bowling alleys

What is an essential worker?

Those who work in essential services are known as essential workers. The Federal Government defines essential workers as “critical to preserving life, health and basic societal functioning.”

This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • first responders
  • health-care workers
  • critical infrastructure workers
  • hydro and natural gas workers
  • workers who are essential to supplying society with critical goods, such as food and medicine

Refer to our Links section for detailed information about essential services in your province.


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