On Friday, both the Saskatchewan government and City of Regina declared states of emergency to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of the municipal regulations mirrored those enacted by the province. But whereas the province’s regulations prohibited gatherings of over 25 people, Regina city council restricted gatherings to five people or less. The city regulations, which were to take effect today and last for a week, also included closure of non-essential retail outlets such as clothing, toy, furniture and shoe stores.
Saskatoon activated its Emergency Operations Centre, but did not pass any additional restrictions on businesses and public gatherings as Regina had done. But on Sunday, the Saskatchewan government announced that it would be rescinding Regina’s restrictions. The Saskatchewan Party government justified the move by saying it wanted to ensure regulations were consistent across the province.
Under Canada’s antiquated constitution, provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over cities via s.92 of the BNA Act. So the province certainly has the power to rescind Regina’s regulations. But whether it should or not is another matter.
The Saskatchewan Party government has not exactly distinguished itself with its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. Virtually every step of the way, it’s had to be poked and prodded by NDP Opposition leader Ryan Meili to take the crisis seriously, from not calling a snap spring election in advance of the scheduled October vote to not proceeding with a “business as usual” budget in light of all the economic chaos from the outbreak and the health risk posed by having hundreds of people descend on the legislature for the budget address.
While the Saskatchewan Party government might wish to keep regulations consistent across the province, the reality of life on the ground for Saskatchewan citizens varies widely depending on where they live. The larger the community, the greater the potential for the virus to spread in the population, so restrictions that might work in a remote rural or small town setting may not serve larger centres such as Regina and Saskatoon as well.
We’ve written in the past about how Canada’s constitutional framework is in desperate need of an overhaul. When the BNA Act was enacted in 1867, Canada was largely a rural country. Now, the vast majority of Canadians live in cities, and municipal governments simply do not have the fiscal and regulatory authority they need to provide appropriate levels of services and supports for their citizens.
In response to the Saskatchewan government’s action in rescinding the City of Regina’s emergency regulations, mayor Michael Fougere is scheduled to give a press conference at 11 a.m. We’ll update the situation at that time.
Update: For now, the province’s regulations remain in place. Following a spike in COVID-19 cases, both Ontario and Quebec have moved to close all non-essential businesses. Here’s a CBC report on Fougere’s reaction.