B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth defends government actions in the legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)

B.C. repairs COVID-19 emergency order for local government

Ombudsperson shut out as his recommendations implemented

A hastily imposed B.C. emergency order giving local councils authority to bar the public from meetings is being retroactively repaired by the NDP government, after B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said it was done illegally.

Chalke found that two of B.C.’s orders in the coronavirus pandemic exceeded their authority, one covering local government and the other allowing courts and tribunals to waive statutory deadlines for submissions.

The order for local councils was rewritten in June after concerns that some municipal councils had shut their doors to the public for months, without electronic access. The revised version requires local governments only to make “best efforts” to allow people to attend meetings, and “best efforts” to let people watch and hear proceedings via video, audio or phone.

Attorney General David Eby has introduced Bill 19, the COVID-19 Related Measures Act, to change the laws that Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth overrode with public health orders. In an interview with Black Press Media, Chalke said Bill 19 addresses most of the problems he found.

It doesn’t change the suspension of public access to council meetings, courts or statutory decision-makers for environmental, forest and other permits, but Bill 19 makes that legal, and retroactively the actions that were taken under the orders will be legal once it passes. It also extends cabinet’s authority to continue emergency measures for up to a year without a province-wide state of emergency that expires every two weeks.

The order has left Vanderhoof, Masset and possibly other communities with no access to their local government for months, since the pandemic restrictions were imposed in mid-March. Chalke said he has received complaints about various municipalities in the pandemic, but he is prevented by his legal mandate from commenting on ongoing investigations.

RELATED: Masset working on phone access to council meetings

RELATED: Vanderhoof access plan begins after meetings closed

“When passed, that legislation will validate those orders and that will address any concerns that anyone might have had if they have taken steps under those orders,” Chalke said.

The key point of his investigation into the emergency orders was that the cabinet can’t issue new legislation without some kind of democratic oversight from the legislature.

“If they’re going to be in essence making statutes, we recommend that the minister have to report to the legislature, which is a feature that you see at the federal level, and secondly that orders expire after a certain number of sitting days,” Chalke said.

The expiry provision, or sunset clause for orders, is not contained in Bill 19, he said.

When Chalke’s report was released June 22, it contained an unusually hostile response from Farnworth. Instead of the standard minister’s acknowledgement of recommendations from an independent officer of the legislature, Farnworth’s letter accused Chalke of exceeding his authority under the Ombudsperson Act by commenting on emergency orders.

Farnworth had no difficulty imposing another sunset clause, telling Chalke he had been offered an opportunity for input into Bill 19 and “unfortunately that window has now closed.”

Asked about his authority to check up on emergency orders, Chalke said: “I’m fully confident that our investigation was within the authority that’s established in the Ombudsperson Act, but for interested readers we’ve set out our opinion at length about why we felt it was within our jurisdiction.”

That opinion is on page 15-17 of Chalke’s report.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Okanagan highlanders dance in support of kids, food banks

A nationwide virtual dance-a-thon will garner donations for Food Bank Canada and Kids Help Phone

Central Okanagan residents invited to give input on regional transport plan

The plan will help Central Okanagan governments work together to connect people and places across the region

Okanagan set for thunderstorms before sunny weekend

Thunderstorms are predicted to give way to a hot, sunny weekend around Kelowna

Body of 21-year-old man found in Okanagan Lake

BC Coroners Service is investigating the circumstances of the man’s death

UBC Okanagan caps digital fees per course amid COVID-19

The UBCO student senate capped fees at $65 per class for the first winter term in 2020

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

‘We all have anxieties’: B.C.’s top doctor addresses return-to-school fears amid COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry promises school restart plan safe for B.C. kids

West Kelowna wildfire ‘under control’

B.C. Wildfire anticipates no further growth from the three-hectare fire

Abbotsford mom worried about her two kids in Beirut following explosion

Shelley Beyak’s children were abducted by their dad in 2018

Young Canadians, hospitality workers bear the brunt of mental strain in 2020: report

A study by Morneau Shepell points to economic uncertainty in the pandemic as the cause for angst

Dry Lake wildfire now classified as held

Wildfire was burning out of control north of Princeton for three days

Health Canada recalling more than 50 hand sanitizers in evolving list

Organization says to stop using products listed, and to consult a health-care professional

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen pays nearly $8 million in wages

Figures included in latest Statement of Financial Information

Democracy costs Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen more than $500,000

Remuneration and expenses paid to chair, directors and alternate directors comes to $542,588

Most Read