During Tuesday’s Regular Council Meeting, Council received a report from the CAO regarding the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) along with lessons learned thus far during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report was received as a Margetson/Bailey motion.
The report was penned in response to a motion from the May 12 council meeting wherein a bylaw was requested that would guide and instruct the Head of Council regarding the emergency powers granted as part of the EMPCA.
As opposed to drafting a bylaw, the report recommends that once COVID-19 has been wrestled into submission, the Emergency Control Group should update the municipality’s Emergency Management Plan to include specific guidelines for the Head of Council in the exercising the powers laid out in the EMPCA
Speaking to the recommendation, CAO Marcia Wallace, who penned the report, noted there were several reasons why she did not draft a bylaw as directed by council.
“I thought it was important to show why I didn’t bring forward a bylaw even though I was directed to do so,” said Wallace.
“First, under the Emergency Act, provincially, it clearly directs Heads of Council to have authority to overrule municipal bylaws…so if we were to draft one tonight and pass it, in an emergency, the Mayor could choose to overrule all or part of it,” Wallace Explained.
She added that despite being granted emergency powers, those have not been exercised, with every decision either being turned over to the CAO or discussed amongst council.
“Every decision we have made using emergency powers has been done either by all of council deciding to delegate authority to myself or it was a decision to council,” said Wallace. “So what are we regulating?”
Thirdly, Wallace stated that the emergency at hand is unprecedented and having parlayed from an emergent threat to an ongoing issue, it has challenged all levels of government.
“We’re all finding our emergency plans are a little lacklustre in helping us communicate in a context where recovery from an emergent situation doesn’t end quickly and response and recovery kind of blend together,” she added.
Referencing the overcrowding issues seen throughout the County, and subsequent complaints from the public, Councillor Janice Maynard inquired as to what powers are available to help curb the overcrowding and address issues of safety.
“Somebody asked me what emergency response options the Mayor or CAO would have to address the chaos and safety concerns form being overwhelmed by crowds. What’s happening to our community now is probably something to do with the emergency and the staged opening in different areas,” said Maynard. “Are there any measures that can be taken to address those safety concerns and chaos that we will probably experience for the next few weeks?”
Mayor Steve Ferguson replied that curbing the flow of visitors to the County had not yet been considered but, depending on the next few weeks, might be something to be considered with the Emergency Management Group.
“I don’t think there is anything at this point contemplated to curb people from coming to the County. I don’t know what could be effective to allow that to happen. We remain in a state of emergency for a number of reasons, including the fact that the province is still in one and the fact that lifting the state of emergency in the County- I believe-sends the wrong signal to the travelling public,” commented Ferguson. “We haven’t discussed it at the Emergency Management Group. It is something we may have to table and look at depending on the experience we see coming forward in the next few weeks.”
Wallace also responded to Maynard’s question by reminding council there are limitations to what they can do based on the municipal act.
“I would remind council that whether it’s the Head of Council or all of you together, you’re limited in terms of what can be done under the municipal act. The emergency powers speak to health and safety,” stated Wallace. “We can’t come up with something that is more restrictive or works against what the province is doing. You may recall in southwest Ontario a public medical officer of health tried to put a restriction on traffic into the area, which was taken away by the province because it was felt that they were overstepping.”
Wallace added that the kinds of actions that could be taken by council are the kinds that have already been done, for example limiting particular activities or making other types of activities more flexible.
“I just felt it necessary to ask for some clarification due to the various comments and general sense of dread of what is going to happen in the next few weeks,” stated Maynard. “I would ask, even if it’s not under the Emergency Measures Act that we ask the province in the strongest possible way to help us manage the number of people that are entering the County.”
Ferguson replied that the issue is an ongoing concern.
“Some of that work has already been undertaken as I indicated earlier, talking to the province over the impact of the last weekend. It remains an ongoing concern and under ongoing discussion,” said Ferguson.
Councillor Andreas Bolik questioned the benefit to the County of staying in a State of Emergency.
“From a functional viewpoint, it’s no longer an emergency but a chronic situation,” Bolik stated. “How are we benefiting from being in a State of Emergency?”
Ferguson asserted that maintaining a State of Emergency in the County was important to mitigate the threat that lifting it might pose.
“I addressed my rationale a bit earlier..between the alignment with the province, neighbouring municipalities and the message we might send to the travelling public that all is right in the County so ‘come on down’,” he explained. “I guess further to Councillor Maynard’s point, lifting the State of Emergency might attract more people and more of an imminent threat. That’s why it remains in place, which I fully support.”