Provincial state of emergency declared

BC public safety minister assures British Columbians supply chains are secure

mike farnwroth - gk
Provincial state of emergency declaration gives Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth extraordinary powers. |Glen Korstrom

B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has declared a two-week state of emergency, which gives him sweeping extraordinary powers, including one he doesn't expect he will have to use.

Wednesday's declaration of a provincial state of emergency follows Tuesday's announcement of a public health emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This declaration will make sure federal, provincial and local resources are delivered in a joint coordinated way to protect the people of our province," Farnworth said. "This is an all-hands on deck approach."

The declaration ensures people have access to essential goods and services and protects supply chains.

"This does give us broad and sweeping powers to direct resources," Farnworth said.

Those powers include the ability to ration food and gasoline, something he doesn't expect will be needed.

Due to concerns that people may need to self-isolate or be quarantined for weeks at a time, people have been panic buying and hoarding groceries and essential household items like toilet paper, diapers and even liquor.

Some grocery and big box stores have temporarily run out of some goods, despite some of them placing limits on the number of items people can buy.

Farnworth said he understands the concern of people who want to ensure they are prepared for long periods of isolation, and noted that some stores have begun to place limits on the number of items people can buy. He urged calm and said he didn't expect he would need to resort to government imposed rationing.

"Our supply chains are in good shape," he said. "People need to use common sense."

On Monday the legislature will be convened with a quorum of 12 MLAs to pass two emergency bills. Farnworth said his government is getting full support of opposition parties.

"Together, we have agreed to resume the legislature on Monday with a reduced number of members, to pass important legislation that will ensure the continuity of government and provide important employment supports in our province. We will use any and all resources available to keep people safe."

B.C.'s public health officer has ordered bars and clubs to shut down and directed that gatherings of 50 or more people be cancelled. But there are reports of large gathering like weddings still being held, in contravention of the public health officer's direction.

"There are powers available under the public health emergency that's been declared to ensure if people are flagrantly abusing or not following those instructions that they can be made to," Farnworth said.

Farnworth has the power to compel retired doctors and other medical personal to come out of retirement, if necessary -- something that could become necessary if hospitals become overtaxed by patients with the COVID-19 virus.

 Again, Farnworth said that is not a power he thinks he will need to use.

"The declaration of this emergency situation does give us broad and sweeping powers to direct resources, whether they are human resources or other resources, to deal with the state of emergency that we have in the province. But I can tell you 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. 

"I do not believe that I'm going to have use a power to force people to do what t hey instinctively know is the right thing to do."