06/21/2006

Bill 56, An Act to amend the Emergency Management Act, the Employment Standards Act, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act received Royal Assent yesterday.
Bill 56 is important legislation that will make Ontario even safer by providing emergency powers legislation. AMO is supportive of the general direction of the legislation. AMO supports measures that enhance our collective ability to prepare, prevent, mitigate, and respond to natural and other emergences 

However, AMO shares the concerns of the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers (OAEM) that the Act gives extensive powers to the Province but no new powers to the municipalities where the emergency is managed. The Act provides the Premier the powers to unilaterally make decisions without consulting affected municipalities. While decisions must be made quickly, every municipality is now mandated to have an emergency plan, to designate a Community Emergency Management Coordinator, to have the appropriate tools, training and expertise to respond to emergencies and should be consulted as much as possible. In addition, the lack of provisions for enforcing these powers means they will be left to the local authorities coping with the emergency to enforce. 

AMO’s main concern with Bill 56 is that there is little mention of compensation for affected municipalities. The implications and the cost impacts, which are very important to municipalities and their taxpayers, can only be determined after the regulations have been passed. AMO argued that the Province should have the same responsibility for absorb expenses related to emergencies as municipalities whenever they declare an emergency. Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Monte Kwinter has assured AMO that Section 13.1(2) of the legislation provides a mechanism for municipalities to be compensated by the Province in the event of a provincially declared emergency.

Following the SARS and blackout emergencies, a review of provincial emergency powers legislation demonstrated that Ontario’s legislation was inadequate in comparison to other jurisdictions. On December 15, 2005, the government introduced Bill 56, the Emergency Management Statute Law Amendment Act. Bill 56 is primarily designed to ensure that appropriate municipal and provincial infrastructures are in place to deal with a local or provincial emergency by providing for the creation, testing and updating of emergency programs and plans.

While Bill 56 provides for the declaration of a provincial emergency, it does not give the government broad powers to issue orders or take action to deal with situations that might arise during the emergency. Bill 56 gives Cabinet or the Premier the authority to declare a provincial emergency, if the resources normally available to the government are considered insufficient to respond adequately to the crisis. Bill 56 also provides emergency powers to assist in the management of declared provincial emergencies.

Action: AMO will continue to monitor developments and offer its support to the Ministry to determine the best way to utilize existing plans and programs at the local level in a provincially declared emergency as well as outstanding liability and cost concerns.