Attempts by the Yukon Party to reform the Civil Emergency Measures Act were shot down in the legislature on March 10 – but the government says a review is incoming.
The amendment bill, introduced by Brad Cathers and intended to place more checks on the power of the Act, failed to gain support from the Liberals or NDP. It was voted down after a lengthy debate.
Although all three parties acknowledged the Act needs to be updated, they disagreed that an amendment — a relatively swift way to modify the law – was the right path forward.
“I have stood up and said this often in this House — that we need a review of this piece of legislation. I continue to say it. I think that there are some very good ideas here and that they are worth pursuing,” said John Streicker.
“I am not trying to avoid the conversation about it; I just believe that we need to be careful that the conversation happens in our legal framework, our context, within our Standing Orders, and with our self-governing First Nations and our communities. That would be the way in which I would like to see this happen,” he added.
In particular, Streicker noted that the Act is invoked for “incredibly serious issues” and hampering the ability to use it could have unintended consequences. While the pandemic is the focus of some criticism right now, previously the Act had only been used for flood or fire.
“Can you imagine, for example, a flood or a fire and it takes us as a group of people five weeks to say whether or not there’s an emergency? That would be a bit of a problem,” said Streicker.
The NDP also refused to support the bill. Both Emily Tredger and Kate White took issue with the wording of the amendments, suggesting the bill was half-baked and cobbled together from federal legislation.
“In fairness, from our side, there was too many amendments that were needed to make it work and I’d rather see it fully reviewed,” said White.
Right now the government in power has unilateral power to declare a state of emergency, without consulting other elected officials or recalling the legislature. Cather’s amendment proposed that if CEMA is enacted, the legislature should be recalled within seven days to vote on its use.
“These measures are aimed at increasing the democratic safeguards and checks and balances under the legislation over the use of emergency powers and providing for the possibility of public consultation. Many of these changes are based directly on the federal government’s Emergencies Act and the safeguards contained in there,” said Cathers while introducing the bill.
The amendments would also require a vote in order to extend the state of emergency. Across the country, different jurisdictions have different rules when it comes to state of emergency powers.
On the floor of the legislature on March 9, sensing that the bill would not pass second reading, Dixon proposed that the amendment bill go to committee instead. A committee with representatives from all three parties could examine the proposed changes and go out for public feedback.
The NDP and the Liberals ended up voting down both the bill and suggestion to send the changes to committee.
On March 10 the Liberals said they would introduce a review of both the Civil Emergency Measures Act and the Public Health and Safety Act, which would involve the department’s staff examining how it could be improved. White said she thought it was positive that partisan bias would be removed from examining the current law.
“I imagine that we’ll see, you know, some pretty substantial amendments to that legislation, including the oversight aspect,” she said.
The NDP have also introduced a motion for a public inquiry to be held on the use of CEMA during the pandemic. The motion will need to go for a vote.
Minister Richard Mostyn said the Liberal government had not yet had the chance to review the idea of a public inquiry, but he said on March 10 that he personally thought it would be costly and didn’t feel it was necessary.
Dixon said the two parties voting down the amendments, followed by introducing a motion put forward by the government urging itself to launch a review, was “political theatrics.”
“It’s an absurd position that the Liberals want to see changes to CEMA but refused the opportunity to see the amendments made yesterday,” he said. “Governments shouldn’t have extraordinary emergency powers to act over a long period of time, in a way that becomes normalized.”
“We need to be careful when we are amending a bill with one specific use in mind, as it would be applicable for all other uses as well. That is when it becomes overarching and excessive,” said NDP MLA Emily Tredger.
“We do need more transparency and accountability when they are as broad and overreaching as the ones we have seen during the pandemic — not as much to repeal them, or to change them, but to improve the public’s understanding of why these measures are being taken,” she said.
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