British Columbia has declared a provincial state of emergency that will bolster its powers to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic, a move that echoes similar measures in Ontario and Alberta.
Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth, also government House Leader, announced the measure on Wednesday. He also said the legislature will be reconvened on Monday with only a dozen members present to pass employment-standards legislation aimed at helping workers as well as legislation to facilitate the operation of government. The Speaker will also be present.
The state of emergency declaration follows this week’s declaration of a public-health state of emergency, and is aimed at supporting that measure.
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A provincial public health emergency grants the health minister and the provincial health officer special powers to deal with a designated crisis. For example, the health officer can issue verbal orders with immediate effect and compel peace officers to enforce them. Also, the health minister can amend regulations without the consent of cabinet and change the Public Health Act without the consent of the legislature.
The full state of emergency, however, enables the province to use land or personal property deemed necessary for emergency response or prohibit travel to or from any area of B.C. It allows for procuring resources and fixing prices for rationing food, clothing, fuel, or medical or other essential supplies.
“This declaration will make sure federal, provincial and local resources are delivered in a joint co-ordinated way to protect the people of our province. This is an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Mr. Farnworth told a news conference in Victoria.
British Columbia announced 45 new cases of the novel coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the total in the province to 231. The new cases included one at Haro Park Centre, a residential care home for seniors. No new deaths were reported Wednesday. To date, seven people in B.C. have died of the virus.
Mr. Farnworth said the state of emergency declaration includes the means to secure critical supply chains, ensure people have access to essential goods and services and that any infrastructure to support the response to COVID-19 is readily available.
“These are extraordinary powers that can be brought to bear in extraordinary situations,” Mr. Farnworth said.
Asked about rationing food, the minister said the province’s food supply chains are in “good shape” and that he is generally getting co-operation from the public that he expects to continue.
Mr. Farnworth’s announcement came shortly after Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced he was declaring a state of emergency in the province’s most populous city, saying the move would enable various helpful measures.
These include closing restaurants to assembly, monitoring the situation in grocery stores and pharmacies and acting to curtail overbuying if necessary.
As well, Mr. Stewart said, emergency management teams would be given more flexibility to deploy resources and enforce public-health orders and business restrictions.
Mr. Stewart said Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer had reported several smaller restaurants had disobeyed public-health orders on Wednesday, remaining open to the public and serving patrons as usual.
The mayor has called a “virtual special council meeting” for Thursday morning to ask council to formally endorse the decision to call a state of emergency.
“These are extraordinary times and we need to take fast and extraordinary actions,” he said.
The last provincial states of emergency were in 2017 and 2018 to deal with wildfires. States of emergency last 14 days, and may be renewed as required.
Monday’s unusual sitting of the legislature is expected to deal with Premier John Horgan’s promise of changes to the provincial Employment Standards Act to protect workers and prevent layoffs of people who need to self-isolate, but details of the province’s approach have not been released.
Mr. Farnworth said Carole James, the provincial Finance Minister, will provide details of what the government is planning.
Mr. Farnworth said minimal staff will be on hand for the session, which, based on talks with the opposition, he expects will just last the day. All individuals will keep the appropriate distance from each other even in the chamber.
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