Another year, maybe two, under emergency orders
Premier Doug Ford‘s cabinet is empowering itself with the sweeping authority granted under the state of emergency for up to two years, even though the declaration itself is set to expire later this month.
Under the current law of the land, once an emergency declaration expires, cabinet may extend the related orders-in-council in 14-day intervals to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
Via Bill 195, which Solicitor General Sylvia Jones tabled Tuesday afternoon, cabinet could extend or amend emergency orders (though not introduce brand-new ones) in 30-day intervals for a year after the emergency expires. The legislature could further extend the powers for another year after that, bringing the emergency orders into 2022, the next scheduled election year.
Ford said that while Ontario’s COVID-19 curve is tapering off, the virus could be around for many months and his government needs to be equipped to implement policy on the fly.
Jones added it will allow cabinet to “bridge the gap” between lockdowns and looser guidelines.
Ford underscored the importance of keeping orders that override collective agreements, such as health-care worker redeployments, and limiting certain long-term care staff from hopping from home to home.
Cannabis delivery from private retail shops and the price gouging ban weren’t included in the bill and are set to expire next week.
The premier or a minister of his choosing will also be required to report to a standing or select committee every 30 days to defend the continuation of the orders, with the premier still required to publicly table a report in the house one year later. Fines for breaching emergency OICs are as hefty as ever.
Pandemic ‘power grab’: Opposition reacts
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called it “a significant power grab” and questioned why it is necessary for a majority government to give itself such broad powers for an extended time.
“It makes no sense to me … that’s not how democracy works,” Horwath said.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner acknowledged the need for speedy pandemic policy, especially in case of future virus waves or flare-ups, but said “there must be proper oversight and transparency in those measures.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says the bill leaves “no meaningful democratic check on the government’s power” because it effectively removes legislative oversight and approval of the sweeping emergency orders that cabinet can continue and change after the declaration expires.
“The Bill’s definition of an amendment is excessively broad and includes imposing ‘more onerous or different requirements’ and ‘extending’ the application of the order being amended including its ‘geographic scope and the persons it applies to,’” the CCLA points out.