Sources tell CBC News that Ottawa sent a letter to provincial and territorial governments as part of the consultation period – a necessary step before triggering a public welfare emergency. The issue should also be a topic when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls the premiers today.
Sending the letter does not necessarily mean that the federal government is about to invoke the law – but it does mean that it is seeking input from regions on such a step.
The letter thanks the premiers for their support and coordination so far.
“The federal ministers of Justice, Public Safety, Health and Agriculture and Agri-Food have since spoken to their provincial and territorial counterparts about whether the measures provided for in the Emergency Measures Act could help our collective efforts to deal with the pandemic, “said the report.
A federal source said the letter was part of an emergency plan. Another said that while the federal government does not want to intrude on provincial jurisdiction, Ottawa wants to make sure that the provinces are aware of what is in the law.
The Emergency Act – which came into force in 1988 – gives the federal government broad powers to regulate or prohibit travel, requisition and use of goods, order qualified persons to provide essential services, regulate the distribution of goods, resources and services; and establish emergency shelters and hospitals.
By law, Ottawa could redirect medical supplies – masks, ventilators and COVID-19 test equipment – to pandemic hotspots in need.
A source told CBC News that one of the federal government’s concerns has been the allocation of supplies to Aboriginal communities.
According to the Ministry of Aboriginal Services, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Aboriginal communities across the country has more than doubled since last week, and many fear that this trend will wreak havoc in some remote locations.
In a appearance before a House of Commons committee on Tuesday, Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, called on the government to invoke the Emergency Measures Act to ensure that supplies and equipment are deployed where they are needed most across the country.
“Front-line workers across the country who directly participate in the care of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients do not receive the [personal protective equipment] they have to do their job, “she told the committee.
“It is simply outrageous and unacceptable in a world class health system like ours. “
Parliament should be reminded
An official letter to the provinces is one step closer to Trudeau in the past. He has said on several occasions that the government will examine all the tools at its disposal in the fight against the pandemic, but has qualified the emergency law as a last resort.
“We will continually work with jurisdictions, cities and provinces on new or additional measures they deem necessary,” said Trudeau on Wednesday when asked to crack down on Canadians who don’t listen to advice on physical distance.
“We are constantly monitoring what is needed and what we may need to do in the next steps. “
Premier of New Brunswick Blaine Higgs said he supports the federal government invoking the Emergency Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford said that Trudeau’s decision was to do so.
“Each province is different, so we want to make sure that we still have the power to make the decisions we need for … health and the economy in each province,” Ford told reporters late last month.
A source said the provinces will have a few days to respond before Trudeau makes a decision.
The Emergency Act replaced the War Measures Act, notoriously invoked by the father of Trudeau, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, during the FLQ crisis. Sources say there is some reluctance in the Prime Minister’s office to invoke the emergency law, given the perspective involved in two Trudeau law enactments of such sweeping laws.
However, the Emergency Law includes some important deputies from the War Measures Law – including the requirement that the government need the participation of Parliament to invoke the law.
If a declaration of emergency is made by the cabinet, Parliament must be ordered to “sit within seven days of the declaration’s publication” – a measure added to the law to prevent abuse by the government of the day.
This Parliament has been temporarily adjourned, but a handful of members have already made the return trip to Ottawa to pass and modify crucial measures such as the wage subsidy program, and they are already returning.
The Liberal government is also expected to answer difficult questions about its use of the Emergency Measures Act after the crisis is over. Under the law, an investigation must be held within 60 days of the expiration of the declaration of emergency, and a report must be laid before Parliament within one year.