The Ford government's Bill 195, which received Royal Assent on July 21, 2020, "necessarily" overrides essential aspects of the province's democratic system – according to Doug Ford himself, at least – to allow the premier to extend certain emergency orders until at least a year after the declared COVID-19 emergency has expired. Bill 195 came into force on July 24, 2020 extending any emergency orders that have not already expired.
Ford has already received heavy criticism for this legislation – including from his own party. Ford ejected Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament, Belinda Karahalios from the PC Caucus after she voted against the bill, stating, “Bill 195 essentially silences every single Ontario MPP on the most important issue facing our legislature today.” And that’s just what this bill is designed to do.
Any emergency order made during the COVID-19 declared an emergency that is still in effect can now be unilaterally extended by the Lieutenant Governor in Council for 30 days at a time, without the oversight of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly. This goes far beyond the privileges allotted to the government even under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (“EMCPA”), which itself was created to bestow extraordinary powers in the event of an emergency.
Until now, emergency measures had restrictions built in that emphasized their extraordinary nature. A declared state of emergency in Ontario could only be extended via resolution of the Legislative Assembly, 28 days at a time. Emergency orders only stayed in effect so long as the state of emergency was still active. The EMCPA, despite giving more power to the government, functioned within our established system and within reason.
In contrast, Bill 195 gives the government the ability to keep emergency orders in effect even if the state of emergency is over. They would no longer need the cooperation of the legislature to change how the orders work and to whom those orders apply. Those changes can also apply retroactively. As Ontario Federation of Labour president Patty Coates says, the bill is “an assault on democracy.” Without the input of our elected representatives on the laws that bind us, we’re being asked to accept that the government who engineered this political power grab will use their new authority responsibly and in our best interests.
Some of the emergency orders that will be extended include work deployment measures for healthcare workers, long-term care and retirement home workers, social workers, and mental health and addictions agency workers. These orders interfere with the collective bargaining rights of union members, allowing employers to cancel vacations, change the hours and place of work, reassign workers, and bring in contractors and volunteers to replace reassigned workers as long as there has not been a layoff.
It’s easy to see why the bill is cause for serious concern. It seeks to dramatically expand the power of the premier to act without being subject to the checks and balances built into our system of government. Similarly, the extended emergency orders give employers unchecked authority over workers, enabling them to ignore their collective bargaining agreements. If the Ford government is declaring the state of emergency to have ended, then the front-line workers who are now exhausted from the stress and uncertainty during COVID-19 now deserve their rest.
Members of the Ontario Nurses’ Association across the province are calling for Bill 195 to be repealed and for good reason. This bill is a clear overstep by the provincial government that may pave the way for similarly “justified” infringements on collective bargaining rights in the future. It affects us all, and it’s critical now to support the Ontario Nurses’ Association and reinforce the role of labour unions in protecting the basic rights of workers in Ontario.