The Yukon Party wants to change the Civil Emergency Measures Act to allow more democratic oversight for its future use.
“One thing that we have been arguing for almost two years is that the use of emergency power shouldn’t be normalized,” said MLA Brad Cathers.
“If such a situation is serious enough to require a state of emergency, that it warrants at least some debate in the Legislative Assembly,” he said.
Cathers introduced a private member’s bill on March 7 with six wording changes that would modify the existing law to allow more oversight.
Right now, the government has the ability to declare a state of emergency without consulting other elected politicians.
Under the proposed changes, a government declaration of a state of emergency would trigger a legislative assembly being called within seven days, and the members of the house would vote on it.
Votes would also need to be carried for an order to extend the state of emergency.
Cathers’ amendments also include more oversight after a state of emergency is used. Under the proposed changes, any regulations or ministerial orders would be subject to a mandatory review by legislators within 45 days of being used. Committees would be able to conduct public hearings on CEMA orders.
Finally, a public inquiry would automatically be held following the use of a state of emergency, although under the proposed amendments, it could be waived if three-quarters of MLAs agree.
Cathers said right now the powers in CEMA are too sweeping and have been used too quickly during the pandemic.
“We’ve said it’s important that emergency powers be used only when there’s no other reasonable alternative, not simply because it’s more convenient for the government. So when options such as legislation or time-limited legislation could work, those would be more appropriate options,” he said.
When the COVID-19 state of emergency was first declared, the Liberal government had a solid majority to bring CEMA into force. Even in a minority government, the government didn’t need to consult with the opposition in order to bring it back on Nov. 8, 2021.
The government said the Act was invoked in order to allow enforcement of public health measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The extension on the current state of emergency will expire this March, and the premier has indicated it will end if decreasing COVID-19 rates continue.
The government has acknowledged the legislation is outdated and prior to the 2021 election proposed forming a committee – made up of members of each party – to suggest changes.
The Yukon Party doesn’t have enough votes to pass their amendment alone. In order to move the bill forward, they will need to get support from the NDP or a number of Liberal members.
“We’re hopeful that members will consider it and that Yukoners will see this as a reasonable approach to putting in place safeguards to prevent emergency powers being used casually, but also still retaining the ability that government can still act quickly in the case of a true emergency,” said Cathers.
The bill is expected to come up for debate on March 9.
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