Proposed amendment to Emergency Measures Act 'astonishing power grab,' Opposition says

P.E.I.’s Official Opposition says it will fight the King government’s proposed amendments to the Emergency Measures Act.

P.E.I. Greens want to see more limits placed on government powers when act is invoked

'I think there are amendments that could be made, but I also think that in its current form this is just such an egregious piece of legislation,' says Official Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. (CBC)

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition says it will fight the King government's proposed amendments to the Emergency Measures Act.

This comes after a draft of the bill was posted online Thursday. The amendment would give the provincial cabinet the power to change or suspend provincial legislation during a declared state of emergency and for up to 90 days afterward. 

The only limit would be that government would have to consider the change to be in the public interest.

"It's not unreasonable for governments to expect to have special powers. That's why we have emergency measures acts," said Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

"It's also not unreasonable to expect that there will be limits to the powers that government will expect that it can hold at that time."

More power to prepare for 2nd wave

The province first declared a state of emergency on April 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That's an astonishing power grab which does not exist anywhere else.— Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker

"The proposed amendments are in light of the experience that the province has been living with the extended state of emergency and in anticipation of a second wave of COVID-19 this fall," said government officials in an email to CBC News.

"Government provided both opposition parties with a full briefing on the proposed amendments with a request for them to provide their formal feedback, of which none has been provided to date. 

"The provisions represented, while developed to meet the extraordinary circumstances we are in, are still subject to sufficient public protection."

Officials also said there was a review and consideration of similar legislation from other jurisdictions when drafting the amendment.

Greens say it needs more limits

New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Act also provides that government with the ability to modify deadlines or time periods for up to 90 days after the date the state of emergency ends, but there is a list of over a dozen acts to which it does not apply. This includes its Auditor General Act, Legislative Assembly Act and Ombud Act.

Ontario also limits the changes in its act to measures that would "facilitate providing assistance to victims of the emergency or would otherwise help victims or other persons to deal with the emergency and its aftermath." 

"The government can vary that bill, amend that bill, adjust that bill, change that bill if it feels that that is in the public interest, so I mean, that's an astonishing power grab which does not exist anywhere else," Bevan-Baker said.

Bevan-Baker compared the situation to the federal Liberal government's attempt in March to increase federal powers so it could tax and spend without parliamentary approval during the pandemic. 

In the end, the Liberals backed down when the Opposition called it an attempt to get Parliament to sign a blank cheque.

"I think there are amendments that could be made, but I also think that in its current form this is just such an egregious piece of legislation," Bevan-Baker said. "Rather shocking that a power grab of this nature would come from a government in a minority situation."

Officials said the P.E.I. government intends to develop another bill to replace the Emergency Measures Act within 24 months, and that it will have broader public engagement.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Kerry Campbell


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