By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mar. 19, 2020 – Declaring a provincial state of emergency will allow the government to direct resources and maintain services during the peak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said yesterday.

“This is an all hands on deck approach,” Farnworth said of the decision to declare a state of emergency in B.C for the third time in four years. The previous two times, in 2017 and 2018, occurred during wildfire seasons. 

The powers we are coming into force today are additional ones that backup that work that’s being done by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Bonnie Henry, Farnworth said.

Earlier this week, Henry declared a provincial health emergency, issuing orders to halt in-class instruction in K-to-12 schools; prohibiting the gathering of 50 or more people; and ordering all bars, pubs, casinos and theatres closed. She also urged people to maintain one to two metres of physical distance from other people at all times, to wash hands regularly, and stay home when sick. Both the federal and provincial government have ordered all Canadians with symptoms and those eturning from out-of-country must self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

The Emergency Program Act gives Minister Farnworth additional wide-ranging powers to ensure people have continued  access to essential facilities and supplies and to “maintain and coordinate emergency medical, welfare and other essential services” throughout British Columbia. 

“Our government will do whatever is necessary to protect and support British Columbians and communities,” said Farnworth. “And we will use any and all resources available to keep people safe.”

A reduced number of 12 legislators will return to the provincial capital on Monday to pass legislative changes under the Supply Act that will protect the flow of goods and services in supply chains. As well, make changes to the Employment Standards Act to protect workers and businesses from the financial effects of COVID-19.  

The new emergency measures will allow the Minister to restrict travel, evacuate premises, and compel local authorities to implement emergency measures. He will also have the authority to ration food and order qualified professionals into service.

“These are extraordinary powers that can be brought to bear in extraordinary situations,” conceded Farnworth, who said the government is working with retailers and the Retail Council  of Canada to ensure the continued smooth delivery of goods. “Our supply chains are working. We’re getting good cooperation. I’m pleased with the cooperation… and that’s what I expect to continue.”

Farnworth doesn’t anticipate having to compel qualified health and first responders to emerge from retirement to help on the novel coronavirus front lines.

“What we’re seeing is what we see every time that we’ve had a disaster in this province, people stepping up and coming forward,” said Farnworth. “That’s what that’s what we do in this province. I do not believe that I’m going to have to use a power to force people to do what they instinctively know is the right thing to do.”