THUNDER BAY - In a special sitting of the Ontario Legislature, members of provincial parliament voted in favour of a motion to extend the Emergency Act by 28 days, and while members of the official opposition supported the bill, it did not come without criticism of the provincial government’s response to COVID-19.
Bill 189, or the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Support and Protection Act, passed on Tuesday afternoon, amends several acts including the Education Act, Ministry of Colleges and Services Act, the Planning Act, Development Charges Act, and the Police Services Act.
“We are using every tool available to us, deploying every resource we have,” Premier Doug Ford said at Queen’s Park before the introduction of the bill.
The province declared a state of emergency on March 17 and it was extended by 14 days on March 30. In order to receive an extension of an additional 28 days, the government needed approval by the legislature.
The Emergency Act restricts social gatherings, orders non-essential workplaces to remain closed, as well as all public parks and recreational facilities, and prohibits price gouging.
And while NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she supported the bill and the extension of the Emergency Act to protect the people of Ontario, she called out the government for still not doing enough to help seniors, students, and vulnerable people across the province.
“Ontarians were hoping the legislation would rescue them and save them from sleepless nights,” she said. “It does not.”
Horwath is calling on the government to offer students unable to find summer employment with income through Ontario Student Assistance Program grants, complete drug coverage for those receiving emergency benefits, a ban on evictions backed by law, a rent supplement and wage subsidy, and more assistance to First Nation communities.
“It will only get worse if the province doesn’t do its part,” Horwath said. “It should offer a supplementary emergency benefit of $2,000 a month to help those who fall through the cracks.”
During the daily press briefing, Ford said he could not say if the Emergency Act will be extended again, but that the health and wellbeing of all Ontarians remains the top priority.
“We must continue to restrict social gatherings, keep non essential workplaces closed, and we must put an iron ring around our seniors,” Ford said. “We must do everything in our power to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed.”
Ford also said that all publically funded schools will remain closed beyond May 4, adding more information will be made available in the coming days. Schools were first ordered closed last month and the closure extended on March 31.
“Students will not be going back on May 4,” Ford said. “That does not mean the year is cancelled.”