Majority of premiers oppose using Emergencies Act, after PM consults
OTTAWA -- The majority of provinces and territories say there is no need to invoke the federal Emergencies Act, and that it should be up to each government to determine how they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The question was posed to premiers in a letter penned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, asking whether there’s a need for further federal oversight to fight the virus.
A senior government source told CTV News that during a follow-up call with Trudeau on Thursday evening there was little debate about the pros and cons of applying the measure, but rather a collective consensus it is unnecessary at this time. The provinces and territories had held a group call prior where they fleshed out their shared response.
"We don’t need this to be the federal government’s priority. There are other areas where they should be focusing their energy on. That was the sentiment shared among most of the premiers," said the source, who added that only a few provinces objected.
New Brunswick Premier Blain Higgs has been vocal about the need for a more uniformed, national approach to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.
"We are seeing new measures being put in place each day, and these measures can vary widely between provinces and territories. Enacting a national state of emergency is the best tool to ensure consistency across our country in the level of health care, safeguarding our supply chain, and mitigating the economic impact," said Higgs in a press briefing on March 24.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford shared an opposing view to reporters on Friday, reflecting on the call with his colleagues.
"I think the Emergency Acts in place in all the provinces and territories in the country have been doing very well and we just couldn’t see any reason for it," said Ford. "We’re going to move forward, we’re doing well, we’re working in cooperation with the federal government and being very cooperative with each other"
The letter from Trudeau states: "The purpose of these consultations is to seek your views on the issuance of such a declaration and whether the COVID-19 situation exceeds the capacity or authority of a province or territory or of existing federal, provincial, or territorial laws to address it."
The Emergency Act – which replaced the War Measures Act – gives the government sweeping powers to prohibit travel, render essential services, regulate the supply of goods, and seize personal property if needed.
The source said the majority of provinces and territories are pleased they can make independent decisions free from more severe federal supervision, especially given that health care is within provincial jurisdiction.
The letter states that on top of discussions like the one held Thursday, a formal written submission will be required by each province and territory by April 15 to indicate their standing on the Emergencies Act.
"Rest assured that I have no intent in interfering with actions by provincial and territorial governments in their jurisdictions. Rather we would like to hear from you as to whether there are particular areas where federal intervention or support under the Emergencies Act would compliment provincial and territorial efforts," the letter reads.
During his daily press briefing on Friday, Trudeau was asked about the outcome of his government’s canvassing to provinces and territories.
He said while his team remains aware of the gaps in access to specific medical supplies across the county, by virtue of the way the health care system functions in Canada, inter-provincial and territorial cooperation has temporarily filled those needs.
"We are seeing the collaboration, the partnership among provinces and territories and the way we’re moving forward on this means we might not ever have to use the Emergencies Act and that would be our preference," said Trudeau.
Ultimately, the power to invoke the Act resides with the federal government.
Trudeau said "if at one point those measures are insufficient to do the things that are needed to do, and all the tools that the federal government has at its disposable are insufficient to bring forward measures that are deemed necessary then and only then do we consider the Emergency Measures Act."
Meanwhile, each province has implemented their own emergency measures. As of March 24, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia had all declared states of emergency. Alberta, Northwest Territories, Quebec, Newfoundland & Labrador, and Prince Edward Island have issued public health emergencies. Similar warnings have been applied at the municipal level as well.