Province takes unprecedented steps to support COVID-19 response
Thursday, March 26, 2020 9:30 AM
Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, is using extraordinary powers under a state of provincial emergency to keep British Columbians safe, maintain essential goods and services, and support the Province’s ongoing response to novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“B.C. is in a strong position to effectively respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Farnworth. “Informed by the direction of the provincial health officer, we’re taking these critical steps to keep our communities safe, goods moving and essential service workers supported.”
Using the extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act, the minister is issuing a series of ministerial orders to ensure a co-ordinated response to COVID-19 across all levels of government for the duration of the provincial emergency. These include:
- Supply chain: Establishing a new Provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit to co-ordinate goods and services distribution; taking a more active role in co-ordinating essential goods and services movement by land, air, marine and rail; and suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day.
- Protecting consumers: Banning the secondary resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and other essential supplies; and restricting quantities of items purchased at point of sale.
- Enforcement: Enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the provincial health officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings, in line with offences under the Public Health Act.
- Travel: Ensuring all passenger and car-ferry services provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
- Protecting B.C.’s most vulnerable: Making it easier to support critical services for vulnerable people, like food banks and shelters.
- Co-ordination: Suspending local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, except for the City of Vancouver; giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions; and co-ordinating potential use of local publicly owned facilities, like community centres, for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.
These unprecedented steps, made based on the recommendation of B.C.’s health and emergency management officials and invoked for the first time under a provincial state of emergency, will support the provincial health officer and minister of health in a co-ordinated cross-government approach to COVID-19 response and recovery.
Farnworth added, “Many local governments, First Nations and partners have stepped up to make sure they have prepared to protect their communities from the impacts of COVID-19. Today’s measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in co-ordination with the Province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19.”
The Province, in consultation with the Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has defined essential services British Columbians rely on in their daily lives in the context of COVID-19 response and recovery. This is distinct from essential service designations under the Province’s Labour Relations Code.
In consultation with the provincial health officer, any business or service that has not been ordered to close, and is also not identified on the essential service list, may stay open if it can adapt its services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the PHO.
“In these new and challenging times we are facing, we’re asking British Columbians to stay strong as a community, and together we can get through this,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “I’m proud of the strategic measures we have enacted government-wide to help our families and health-care workers, to keep them safe and supported. By issuing a series of ministerial orders, we recognize that this is not forever, but it is for now. With everyone stepping in and respecting the extraordinary means we have to take, we will overcome this.”
Farnworth declared a provincial state of emergency on March 18, 2020, after the provincial health officer declared a public health emergency on March 17. The Province previously declared states of emergency in 1998, 2003, 2017 and 2018 – all related to wildfires. In each of those previous declarations, necessary actions were able to be taken without issuing minister’s orders under the Emergency Program Act.
- Declarations of provincial states of emergency may be issued by the minister responsible under the Emergency Program Act.
- The provincial government can extend the period of a declaration made by the minister responsible for further periods of time.
- During the 2017 wildfire season, the Province was in a provincial state of emergency for 10 weeks from July 7 to Sept. 15.
Extraordinary powers of the Emergency Program Act
On March 18, 2020, a provincial state of emergency was declared under the Emergency Program Act (EPA) to support the provincial health officer and minister of health in the timely and effective provincial response and recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This declaration will make sure federal, provincial and local resources are delivered in a joint, co-ordinated effort to best protect British Columbians.
Under a provincial state of emergency, the minister of public safety and solicitor general has extraordinary powers under the EPA to take steps necessary to prevent, respond or alleviate the impacts of an emergency.
These powers, issued by ministerial order, include the means to secure critical supply chains, ensure people have access to essential goods and services to keep society running, and make sure critical infrastructure and materials are readily available to support COVID-19 response and public safety orders are enforced.
Ministerial orders using the extraordinary powers of the EPA support a government-wide approach to COVID-19 response and recovery throughout the state of emergency, and are guided by the Pandemic Provincial Coordination Plan.
Maintaining the supply chain for essential goods and services
- A new, Provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit will co-ordinate goods and services distribution in partnership with industry.
- The Province will take a more active role in co-ordinating essential goods and services movement by land, air, marine and rail. All air services required to transport essential goods, services or personnel shall be managed through establishing of a Coordinated Provincial Air Service.
- Any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day are suspended.
- The Province will identify and take control of warehouses and other facilities for gathering supplies and resources if required.
- The resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning products and other essential supplies is prohibited.
- The Province will work with retailers and industry to restrict quantities of certain items purchased at point of sale to make sure there is enough supply for those who need them.
- Municipal bylaw officers are enabled to be re-deployed to support enforcement of the provincial health officer’s orders and directives carrying fines of over $25,000 or jail, to be determined by the courts under the authority of the Public Health Act.
- Direct passenger and car ferry operators, in consultation with the Province, will provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
Protecting the most vulnerable
- Regulatory and administrative barriers will be removed to make it easier to support critical services for vulnerable people, like food banks and shelters.
- Evictions due to loss of income related to COVID-19 that would otherwise be allowed under the Residential Tenancy Act will be prevented or suspended.
Better emergency response and recovery co-ordination
- All orders issued under local states of emergency under COVID-19 will be suspended and local governments will activate their emergency plans.
- The City of Vancouver’s state of emergency orders remain. Going forward, the city will require permission to issue further new orders under its state of emergency.
- Public facilities, like community centres, will be identified to be used for pandemic response: self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.
- Mutual aid agreements will be put in place for first responders.
- Local governments will be given the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions.
- Local governments will be directed to develop business continuity plans and advanced planning for other emergencies, such as freshet flooding and wildfires.
- On the direction of the Province, a hotel operator or commercial lodging operator must provide accommodation services for the purposes of self-isolation, supporting essential workforces or for other purposes identified by the Province.