Canadian Manufacturing

Manitoba politicians debate new emergency powers in reduced legislature

One bill proposes giving Manitoba's chief public health officer new powers to prohibit people from travelling to, from or within a given area

April 15, 2020  The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is eyeing new powers and stiffer penalties to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health crises.

It’s also preparing to spend a lot more money.

The government introduced several bills April 15 during a one-day emergency sitting of the legislature attended by one-third of politicians — a measure adopted to follow social-distancing guidelines.

“Our province, our nation, our planet face an unprecedented series of challenges,” Premier Brian Pallister said near the outset of the day’s proceedings.

“Until a cure is found and an effective vaccine is created, each of us — all of us — have a responsibility to prevent the spread of this virus and the harm caused by it.”

One bill proposes giving Manitoba’s chief public health officer new powers to prohibit people from travelling to, from or within a given area. He would also have the authority to lay out specific orders — such as self-isolation — for people who arrive in Manitoba from elsewhere.

Another bill would allow the province to prohibit price-gouging during emergencies and set fixed prices for necessary goods and services. It would also raise the maximum penalty for ignoring an evacuation order to $500,000 from $50,000.

Other bills are aimed at providing relief to people affected by the economic fallout from COVID-19.

One would enact an earlier government promise to freeze rents during the pandemic and forbid landlords from evicting people for non-payment. Another would offer workers job protection if they have to take a temporary leave from work due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Opposition New Democrats indicated support for some of the bills, but urged the government to offer direct financial assistance to people who have lost jobs or whose hours have been reduced.

“There is a broad economic consensus that governments have a special role to keep the economy moving during times of crisis,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

The NDP also called on the government to back off a plan announced on Tuesday for reduced work weeks for public-sector employees.

Pallister had earlier said the province was preparing for a $5-billion hit this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak _ a combination of higher health-care costs and reduced tax revenues from a slumping economy.

The Tory government tabled financial estimates April 15 that forecast $1 billion in extra spending directly linked to the pandemic, half of which is tabbed for health care.