Party lines drawn ahead of key Emergencies Act vote on Monday
Conservatives argue protest did not rise to threshold for emergency powers
Canada's political parties stood firm in their positions during two days of weekend debates on the use of the Emergencies Act, ahead of a key vote on Monday on whether to ratify the extraordinary powers.
MPs, who sparred in the House of Commons hour after hour, were scheduled to sit from 7 a.m. ET to midnight on both Saturday and Sunday.
The at-times tense and personal debate pitted the Liberal government against the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, a combination Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux referred to as an "unholy alliance." The New Democrats have said they will support the government's use of the act but have urged the Liberals to tread carefully, while reserving the right to pull support at any time.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who has announced he is seeking the leadership of his party, accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of engineering the crisis for political gain.
"They have attempted to amplify and take advantage of every pain, every fear, every tragedy that has struck throughout this pandemic in order to divide one person against another and replace the people's freedom with the government's power," he said Saturday.
Poilievre said the Emergencies Act was the "latest and greatest example of attacks on our freedom."
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said Sunday that the "vigorous" debates over the Emergencies Act are a sign of a healthy democracy, casting the discussion in a positive light a day after a major police action cleared protesters away from Parliament Hill on Saturday.
"The fact that there has been a vigorous debate taking place in Parliament, that will come to a vote in our democratically elected House of Commons tomorrow ... to me is an affirmation that our democracy is strong," he said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
Protests not an emergency: Conservatives
The Conservatives argue that the protests do not rise to the level of an emergency and do not warrant the use of extraordinary powers — claiming the government's actions are "sinister" and politically motivated.
"There is no emergency, there is no threat to our democracy, and it's a shame the government has not pulled this bill," said Warren Steinley, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan. Steinley was among several Conservative MPs who voiced support and visited with protesters earlier in the month. The party has since called for the end of the demonstrations.
Other Conservatives characterized the protests as a matter more appropriately dealt with by Ottawa police, not an emergency response.
"There's no al-Qaeda, there's no Taliban, there's no North Korean special forces looking to take over the government. Mr. Speaker, this is a matter for local law enforcement officials, and it is wrong for this government to make it out to be anything more than that," said Conservative MP Michael Kram. His characterization of the protests was criticized by Liberal MPs and Green MP Elizabeth May.
Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre, made an impassioned speech on Sunday outlining the harms of the protest on the city's downtown.
"I cannot overstate the profound impact this occupation has had on my community," he said, adding it will take time to heal.
Liberals argue measures are restrained, limited
The governing Liberals have argued that the Emergencies Act was necessary to put an end to the protests in Ottawa and others across the country, pointing to such measures as cutting off financial supports and compelling the service of tow truck drivers.
The measures are automatically time-limited, expiring after 30 days, and Parliament has the power to revoke the emergency declaration either in initial votes this week or at any point during the month-long window.
** 4 Reasons Why the Emergencies Act was Required **<br><br>1. Children - Allowed for the lawful prohibition of children to be brought into the protest.<br><br>2. Restrict Entry - Allowed police to restrict access to downtown Ottawa of those whose sole intention was to join the protest.<br><br>1/2—@MarkGerretsen
Blair told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that the government was committed to maintaining the emergency only as long as needed to resolve the situation in Ottawa.
"We have said and made a commitment to Canadians that we brought these measures reluctantly because they were necessary, but they would only be in place and only where they are required for as long as is necessary," he said.
That question is growing in importance as police have succeeded in dislodging protesters from their main encampment near Parliament Hill, establishing a secure perimeter with fencing and towing the vehicles that have occupied much of the city's downtown core for more than three weeks.
In defending their decision, Liberals have repeatedly pointed to comments made by interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell on Friday, in which he noted the Emergencies Act had allowed police to set up barriers and secure an area in the city's downtown.
Mixed support from premiers
The government's use of the Emergencies Act received an uneasy response from premiers throughout, with some like Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaking out in support, while others were opposed.
In a separate interview airing Sunday, B.C. Premier John Horgan said while many premiers agreed the situation was serious, they were concerned with federal overreach.
"I think the premiers agreed that the events in Ottawa were just not tenable and something had to be done. But at the same time, we all expressed our concerns about the intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. We all expressed a concern that it be locally focused, geographically focused," he told Barton.
Premier Jason Kenney in neighbouring Alberta took a much harder line, saying on Saturday his government would challenge the use of the act and potentially join as an intervener in a separate case being launched by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
"That kind of extraordinary power I don't think is justified," Kenney told Barton in an interview that took place Friday, ahead of his announcement.
"I think they could have dealt with the situation in Ottawa using the same sort of laws they were using in Windsor and at Coutts," he said, referring to blockades of border crossings in Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta.
Alberta is filing a Court challenge to the unjustified use of the Emergencies Act.<br><br>We may also intervene in support of other Court challenges.<br><br>As Tommy Douglas said about the use of the War Measures Act in 1970, it’s like “using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut. <a href="https://t.co/lx53TNcaJb">https://t.co/lx53TNcaJb</a> <a href="https://t.co/QD98vKgc32">pic.twitter.com/QD98vKgc32</a>—@jkenney
With files from Rosemary Barton and Tyler Buist