This afternoon government released draft amendments to the Emergency Measures Act and the Public Health Act that will give itself sweeping new powers.
Specifically, these amendments will allow government to unilaterally suspend or vary any piece of legislation without seeking permission from the Legislative Assembly during a state of emergency or a public health emergency. Additionally, it will allow these decisions to continue for 90 days beyond the lifting of the emergency. There is no other Canadian jurisdiction with powers this expansive.
In these bills, the only check on government’s power is that it must consider an action or decision to be in the public interest. This prompts some questions:
- Could a government consider it in the public interest to waive environmental standards to reduce costs for businesses during difficult economic times?
- Could a government consider it in the public interest to suspend or vary legislated taxes such as carbon pricing?
- If food supply became an issue, could a government consider it in the public interest to waive agricultural/water/food preparation regulations?
- If certain employment protections and requirements were making it difficult or expensive for businesses to reopen, including obligations under employment standards and occupational health and safety legislation, could government consider it in the public interest to waive them if that’s what they believe is needed to restart the economy and make it easier for businesses?
- Could a government consider it in the public interest to suspend or vary restrictions or limits on its powers in various statutes, if it thinks those restrictions are holding back government’s response?
- During a recent legislative briefing provided by government, I expressed my concerns that these amendments undermine the very foundations of parliamentary democracy. If government is looking to address specific deficiencies in legislation, they should table legislation that addresses them directly and nothing beyond that.
These amendments will bypass the legislative branch and move unreasonable powers into the hands of Executive Council, and therefore we will use all the tools available to us as the Official Opposition to defeat these provisions.
Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker
Leader of the Official Opposition