A motion affirming the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act passed a crucial House of Commons vote Monday, ensuring the expansive powers contained in the act remain in use by authorities thanks to parliamentary support from the New Democrats.
While the powers contained in the Emergency Act took effect immediately, the Liberal government needed to seek approval for its decision to invoke the act from the House of Commons within seven days. If that vote had failed, the emergency declaration would have been revoked.
Conservative MPs in the House booed and shouted “shame” when the first NDP MPs stood up to vote in favour of the motion. The Conservatives, however, applauded Bloc Québécois MPs when they stood to support the Conservatives.
The Liberals cheered loudly, drowning out heckles from the Conservatives when Green MP Elizabeth May voted in favour of the motion, which passed by a vote of 185 to 151.
Immediately after the vote passed, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen stood up and tried to enter a motion recalling the use of the Emergencies Act, but that motion was ruled out of order.
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to protesters occupying some streets in downtown Ottawa, saying the decision to trigger the act was not one he and his government took lightly.
“It became clear that local and provincial authorities needed more tools to restore order and keep people safe,” he said.
Trudeau was asked if the deployment of the act is still necessary, now that police have cleared the area in front of Parliament Hill. He said his government wouldn’t keep the enhanced powers provided for under the act in place “a single day longer than necessary.”
WATCH | ‘This state of emergency is not over,’ Trudeau says:
“Even though things seem to be resolving very well in Ottawa, this state of emergency is not over,” he said.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who was with Trudeau at his news conference, said a number of people affiliated with the protests remain in the city.
“We have to remain vigilant, and not only in Ottawa but at our ports of entry,” he said, referring to a number of blockades at Canada-U.S. border crossings, including Coutts, Alta., and Windsor, Ont.
Last week, the federal Liberals invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since its passage in 1988 to deal with an anti-vaccine mandate protest that had been occupying downtown Ottawa for weeks. The measures set out in the act have been in effect ever since.
The New Democrats indicated early on that they would support the government’s use of the act but urged the Liberals to tread carefully, and said they are reserving the right to pull support at any time.
“We share the concern of many Canadians that the government may misuse the powers in the Emergencies Act, so I want to be very clear: We will be watching. We will withdraw our support if, at any point, we feel these powers are being misused,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told the House at the start of the debate on Thursday.
Singh again promised his party’s “reluctant support” for triggering the Emergencies Act early Monday, saying New Democrats are prepared to trigger a second vote if they decide that the measures provided for under the act are no longer necessary.
“It’s not a blank cheque. We are prepared to pull our support as soon as … the act is no longer needed,” he said Monday.
The act states that it cannot be in force for more than 30 days from the date it was invoked, in this case Feb. 14.
Singh said New Democrats would not support its use for that long and called on the government to provide regular updates to MPs.
At least two Liberal MPs expressed doubts about the continued use of the act in the lead up to the vote.
Ontario MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said that despite reservations he would support the motion because the vote was a question of confidence — one that would trigger a general election if the government loses.
“I’m not convinced that the emergency measures should continue to exist beyond today,” he said during the House of Commons debate on Monday.
“The disagreement I’ve expressed here does not amount to non-confidence, and I have no interest in an election at this time.”
Quebec MP Joël Lightbound echoed Erskine-Smith, saying he would vote against the use of the act if it wasn’t a confidence vote.
Conservatives, Bloc oppose use of act
The at-times tense and personal debate over the Emergencies Act has pitted the Liberal government against the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, a combination Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux referred to as an “unholy alliance.”
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who is seeking his party’s leadership, accused Prime Minister Trudeau of engineering the crisis for political gain.
“They have attempted to amplify and take advantage of every pain, every fear, every tragedy that has struck throughout this pandemic in order to divide one person against another and replace the people’s freedom with the government’s power,” he said Saturday.
The Conservatives argued that the protests did not rise to the level of an emergency and did not warrant the use of extraordinary powers.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the government didn’t need to invoke the Emergencies Act — that what it needed to do was to provide Ottawa police with additional officers to remove the protesters.
“The police did its job, and it’s a wonderful job which has been done here in the last few days, and by itself it is a proof that this law never had to be used in anyway,” he said outside of Parliament Hill on Monday.
RCMP says it’s not going after small donors
Some Conservative MPs have suggested that police could freeze the bank accounts of small donors who may have given money to the protest early on.
In a statement released Monday, the RCMP said it has provided banks only with the names of organizers and owners of trucks who had refused to leave the protest area.
“At no time did we provide a list of donors to financial institutions,” the statement said.
Police have succeeded in dislodging protesters from their main encampment near Parliament Hill and have established a secure perimeter with fencing. Authorities have towed the vehicles that have occupied much of the city’s downtown core for more than three weeks.
In defending their decision, Liberals have pointed repeatedly to comments made by interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell on Friday. Bell said the Emergencies Act allowed police to set up barriers and secure an area in the city’s downtown.
The Senate must also vote on the act’s use but debate has not started yet in that chamber.