The B.C. government has suspended all local states of emergency, including the City of Delta’s, as it moves to co-ordinate pandemic responses province-wide.
As part of a series of new steps taken under the provincial state of emergency, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced the suspension of all local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic (except for the City of Vancouver, which is governed by a different charter from other B.C. municipalities).
The move is billed as giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions, as well as allowing the province to co-ordinate the potential use use of local publicly-owned facilities like community centres for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.
“Many local governments, First Nations and partners have stepped up to make sure they have prepared to protect their communities from the impacts of COVID-19,” Farnworth said. “Today’s measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in co-ordination with the province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19.”
Other measures enacted by the province on Thursday include establishing a new Provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit to co-ordinate goods and services distribution; suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day; banning the secondary resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and other essential supplies; restricting quantities of items purchased at point of sale; and enabling municipal bylaw officers to enforce the provincial health officer’s orders relating to business closures and limiting gatherings, including issuing fines of up to $25,000 or jailing offenders.
A provincial spokesperson confirmed that specific shopping hours for seniors and health care workers brought in by various grocery stores are not affected by these measures.
Delta Mayor George Harvie said the province’s move strengthens the city’s ability to enforce the measures taken by the province and orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to address the ongoing pandemic.
“Any time you’re acting under a provincial regulation versus a local government regulation, there is strength in that,” Harvie said during a virtual townhall with Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord and Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon shortly after the province’s announcement.
“[Our local state of emergency] we always thought would be temporary, but we wanted to get out there and do things very quickly, unlike some of the other cities who have moved a little too slow in my opinion.”
The City of Delta declared a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, March 19. That same day, Delta bylaw inspectors suspended the business licence of Bikram Yoga Delta after the owner refused to voluntarily cancel classes in light of the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.
Since declaring a local state of emergency, the city and Mayor Harvie have issued a number of orders under the local state of emergency, including mandating local stores set aside time every day for seniors and others who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 to shop separate from from the general public, and requiring store managers take steps to discourage overbuying of all goods and limit the quantity of “key items” that a single person may purchase in one day.
Mayor and council also passed a bylaw enabling the City of Delta to defer the late payment penalty deadline for 2020 flat rate utility bills until June 1, 2020, and just yesterday (Wednesday, March 25) gave first, second and third reading to amendments to the city’s Emergency Program Bylaw which would enable police and bylaw enforcement officers to ticket and fine anyone who isn’t adhering to orders issued by the provincial health officer relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Council is set to vote on giving the bylaw amendments fourth reading and final adoption at special council meeting on Friday, March 27 at 4 p.m.
Kahlon said the measures enacted by the province on Thursday were in part to ensure that other B.C. communities are doing the things the City of Delta is already doing.
“We’re fortunate here in Delta that [Mayor Harvie] and team took action on enacting the orders that were gave by the health officials in this province,” Kahlon said during the virtual townhall. “[That’s] what we saw, for example, with the yoga studio. They were told that it was not appropriate, and then eventually their business licence was pulled because they wouldn’t follow the rules.
“Delta was taking action, but we didn’t see that across the board, across the province, as some communities were a little slower to take up on this action. So it’s not a reflection on what, say, Delta was doing; it’s more of a reflection on wanting to ensure that every part of this province, every city council, every municipality, has now the tools from a provincial lens to be able to take action.”
— with a file from Katya Slepian