The Government and COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 means the federal government (and also each provincial and territorial government) has had to take some drastic and unusual steps to respond to the pandemic to keep citizens healthy. At the same time, when businesses are closed and we're all asked to stay home, the government has to keep an eye on what effect this would have on Canada's economy.

Here's a quick FAQ about the pandemic's impacts on the government.

How does the government run during a time like this?

On March 15, MPs voted unanimously across party lines to officially suspend the House of Commons and the Senate until April 20th, with the possibility of a longer closure. All events and functions scheduled in the House during the affected time period have also been canceled. The federal budget was scheduled to be released on March 30 but that's also been postponed.

On March 24th, the House of Commons was reconvened in order to pass emergency legislation to help provide financial support to Canadians amid the COVID-19. 30 members of Parliament proportionate to each party were present in order to respect physical distancing rules.

There are currently no online solutions in place that would allow MPs to vote remotely on bills and motions, so for now, the House Of Commons has to sacrifice social distancing rules to pass legislation.

What are MPs doing now if they're not in Ottawa?

While the House of Commons will not sit for another five weeks, only two of those lost weeks were scheduled as sitting weeks. The other three were "Constituency Weeks" - a time when MPs return to their home ridings. They've been directed to cancel all public events, and postpone all travel.

Each Member of Parliament acts as the employer for their individual offices, meaning it’s ultimately up to each MP to decide how to direct their staff. Following directions set by Health Canada, nearly all constituency offices are closed with employees working remotely.

What happens when my city declares a state of emergency?

Cities enact states of emergency to clamp down on activities that mayors and councils believe are violating the spirit of public-health officials’ warnings. Without orders from provincial health officers, cities give themselves specific powers to act on their own.

Dual declarations – one provincial and one municipal – aren’t redundant because it allows both entities to act quickly, while giving cities the power to move ahead on specific local actions without having to get permission from higher up.

What happens when my province declares a state of emergency?

After calling a state of emergency, provinces have the authorization to do things like control people’s locations, control resources, and search, arrest or fine people for contravening government orders (such as defying quarantine guidelines).

A number of resources are “unlocked” that aren’t normally accessible by the government, such as the ability to close both private and public establishments.

What else can the federal government do?

The federal government can use the Emergency Act to, among other things, take powers that are usually in the hands of the provinces and municipalities. The Act grants Ottawa the power to do just about anything it thinks is necessary to cope with a crisis.

The Emergency Act is seen as a measure of last resort, but it might be required if Canada is to implement some extraordinary measures — beyond existing provincial actions — such as closing interprovincial borders to stop the spread of COVID-19.

FYI the current form of the Emergency Act has never been used.

What happens if the Prime Minister gets sick and can't work?

If anything were to happen to Justin Trudeau, there's a list of "next in line" Ministers who would step up to take his place. It goes:

  1. Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister
  2. Lawrence MacAulay, Veteran Affairs Minister
  3. Carolyn Bennett, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister
  4. Dominic Leblanc, President of the Privy Council

This list was made by the Privy Council on March 13, after Trudeau announced he would be self-isolating for 14 days as a result of his wife testing positive for COVID-19.

How does a pandemic affect elections?

There were a handful of elections scheduled to take place this year but they're now up in the air. 

In New Brunswick, the provincial legislature voted to postpone municipal elections from April to May. If necessary, those elections might be pushed all the way to May 2021. Two provincial byelections that were scheduled to take place in June have also been postponed.

In Saskatchewan, there was some talk of an election this spring but Premier Scott Moe says that won't happen. The election date, according to provincial law, is in October.

The leadership race for the federal Conservative Party is suspended too.


Check your province's dedicated webpage for the most up to date info for where you live.


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