The City of Terrace is closing all its building doors to the public as COVID-19 spreads through the province. (File Photo)

City of Terrace supports provincial state of emergency

Will not initiate local declaration as B.C. requests municipalities to work together

The City of Terrace continues to support the province, who announced on March 26 that all local government states of emergencies will be suspended in an effort for a coordinated COVID-19 response.

Throughout the week, some local governments across the province declared states of emergency and even Prince Rupert joined in, but the City of Terrace stood firm with its decision to not do the same, despite public criticism.

According to Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc in an email to the Terrace Standard, the Declaration of the Provincial State of Emergency, which took place on March 18, meets the needs of the city and council supports the province’s request to work together.

”We have been participating in regular conference calls with the province, which is providing chief administrative officers and mayors with guidance on how best to respond to the many different aspects of this pandemic,” writes Leclerc.

“We are responding as quickly as we can to the daily updates from the federal and provincial governments and taking additional measures where required.”

Although many users on social media pressured the city to call for a state of emergency after Prince Rupert made their declaration, the mayor says the city is meeting the province’s mandate.

This includes maintaining physical distance by moving city facilities to essential services whenever possible and allowing staff to work from home. Earlier this week, city playgrounds and outdoor recreational facilities were closed following provincial orders.

READ MORE: State of Emergency declared in Prince Rupert

The province stated in the March 26 press release that the suspended local states of emergencies specific to the COVID-19 pandemic are in an effort for coordination, with the exception of the City of Vancouver.

As regular city council meetings have been pushed to commence April 14, the City of Terrace has been providing COVID-19 updates on its website and social media channels. Leclerc has also filmed two updates from her porch to encourage social distancing and how the city is approaching the matter.

On Facebook, Terrace city councillor Sean Bujtas responded March 26 to the public’s frustration, saying the city is adhering to the province’s request for municipalities to work under one notion to avoid confusion about responsibilities and enforcement. When a community declares a state of emergency, it only remains in effect for seven days and must be authorized by the province past that period.

“All provincial orders supersede anything the City of Terrace puts in place,” explains Bujtas. “When declaring a local state of emergency, nine powers are available to the City. Six of these nine powers involve taking property and forced evacuation.”

He writes Terrace is already following provincial guidance such as having medical staff step up and grocery store staff continuing to work to provide supplies. Two of the powers that won’t be initiated are travel prohibitions and fixing prices/rationing products.

Bujtas writes the City of Terrace does not have the jurisdiction and resources to shut down or control highways. As Terrace serves as a commercial hub for many people across the region, it’s important to keep neighbouring communities (Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Thornhill, Jackpine Flats, Usk, Rosswood, the Nass Valley and Lakelse Lake) supplied with essential needs like groceries and medicine, he says.

He adds the Northwest Regional Airport is also considered an essential service and falls under federal jurisdiction, meaning the city has no ability to control those services regardless of emergency measures.

As for proceeding with fixing store prices or rationing supplies, Bujtas says those actions are currently not required as gas prices are already going down and the food supply chain remains strong in the north.

“The Minister of Public Safety has been clear that the province wants coordinated responses to this provincial emergency,” Bujta says in the post. “The province has already declared a state of emergency. Any rule the city would try to put in place would be superseded by the province.”

Following concerns brought up by Terrace residents, Bujtas says the city is asking the province to address some of those inquiries such as reducing the gathering size from fifty to a much lower number and to request for anybody flying into the airport here to self-isolate for 14 days.

Residents have also asked for more coordinated efforts between provincial agencies, Northern Health and local non-profits to ensure support for vulnerable persons, and for local daycare operations to only provide children care for essential service workers such as grocery store employees, first responders, pharmacists and medical staff.

The provincial Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has already stated, in consultation with the provincial health officer, that exceptions can be made for any business or service that is not identified on the essential service list to stay open if they can adapt its services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the provincial health officer.

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