Town of PR will not declare emergency

Not needed, deems council

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The Town of Peace River is not declaring a state of local emergency, despite the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some residents have questioned why the Town has not declared a state of local emergency, or SOLE, even as confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the region continue to rise.

“Perhaps they think it is the SOLE solution,” says Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey.

“I think a lot of people think without a SOLE, we’re not doing anything,” says Councillor Don Good.

However, the Town has set up an Emergency Coordination Centre [ECC] to coordinate its pandemic response. Council is also taking action to help residents during the coronavirus crisis, such as not cutting off utilities for those who can’t pay.

Grande Prairie, Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer have all declared states of local emergency.

The Government of Alberta is also looking at changing legislation to allow SOLEs to be in effect for 90 days before needing to be renewed. Currently, they must be reviewed every seven days.

Amendments to the Emergency Management Act to extend SOLEs were tabled in the Legislature on April 7.

The act was already amended once last month to allow Alberta and its municipalities to declare states of emergencies simultaneously. Before those changes, a province-wide emergency declaration would trump any declared by a municipality.

At press time, Alberta has not declared a state of emergency, but is instead operating under a public health emergency declaration.

CAO Chris Parker gave a full report on what calling a SOLE would mean for Peace River at the meeting of council on March 23.

Parker says declaring a state of local emergency would give the Town of Peace River new powers, such as the ability to restrict travel, control the distribution of supplies, or evacuate people.

He says the Town could even enter places without a warrant or commandeer personnel and equipment from local contractors with a SOLE.

“We just don’t think we need it,” Parker says.

Parker continued to recommend against using a SOLE at the April 6 governance and priorities meeting.

“With respect to the COVID crisis, I really can’t envision a scenario where we would have to declare a Local State of Emergency,” says Peace River Mayor Tom Tarpey.

“The Public Health Emergency directives effectively give public health inspectors, police, sheriffs and our bylaw officers enough authority to issue tickets and fines for individuals, organizations and business who are willfully disobeying the directives like mass gatherings and physical distancing.”

“Even having said that, the key to getting through the COVID crisis and flatten the curve really comes down to educating people about why they need to follow the public health guidance. And from what I have seen residents are complying.”

Tarpey says there is an understanding we are all in this together, and we need to support each other.

“Where there are lapses, it seems it is because people are reverting to old habits and all they need is a gentle reminder.”

Another reason Tarpey doesn’t want to declare a SOLE is in case a new crisis arises, such as a flood warning due to the spring breakup of the river.

Mayor of High Prairie Brian Panasiuk issued a statement March 25 about why a state of local emergency has not been declared. In short, he and council felt it was not needed.

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