North Perth “reluctantly” declares state of emergency

Municipality of North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg today [Thursday] officially declared a State of Emergency to exist in the Municipality in response to COVID-19.

“I am declaring a State of Emergency with reluctance. To this date, the response of our Municipality – governed by all of Council – has been exemplary, and there is virtually nothing that I would change about our approach to date. The fact that I am so declaring – more to express solidarity with other Perth County municipalities and to reassure citizens that we are taking this seriously – actually conflicts with my inherent commitment to democracy and the belief that our Council and Corporation have delivered an effective platform for COVID-19 awareness and the containment of disease spread, all guided by Huron Perth Public Health Medical Officer of Health Dr. Miriam Klassen. All along, when Dr. Klassen has given advice, we have taken it, and we’ve been grateful for her remarkable leadership and fortitude in the face of this pandemic. But the one area that the Medical Officer of Health cannot conclusively advise on is taking the effort to declare a State of Emergency – because it applies to municipal continuity operations – and only the head of council can make that decision,” said North Perth Mayor Todd Kasenberg. “While not required of me under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, I took the time to consult Council and our senior staff, and have been shown support for my judgment in making this call. At heart, I am committed to democracy and have delayed action to get the advice of my peers. It has delayed our decision vs other Perth County municipalities – and if the public wishes to cast blame, I invite them to cast it on me for making sure that I heard the will of all our elected officials and key staff.”

Declarations of emergency are made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act,. Broad powers for resolution of the emergency are granted to the Mayor alone, who may act without Council approval for the duration of the emergency.

The declaration gives Mayor Kasenberg powers to suspend various policies and processes of the Municipality when dealing directly with the emergency, spend from the Municipal purse on his direction, and make staff decisions and orders related to the emergency without Council’s voice in the decision. It intensifies the role of an advisory group – called the Emergency Control Group – as advisors to the Mayor, but in all matters related to the emergency, the Mayor now firmly is in control of the organizational response.. The provisions of the Act also permit the Mayor to issue a complete “shelter in place” order, requiring all to stay home without allowances for essential trips, order open a facility without Council approval, and order all citizens to evacuate within North Perth boundaries.

“What some people are seeking – more stringent orders to suspend business activity, getting enhanced enforcement around social distancing – goes well beyond the provisions granted to the head of the council even in a declared State of Emergency. Based on our advice, the only authority to interfere with private businesses, short of the shelter-in-place or evacuation authority, is the Province of Ontario, through Order-in-Council. We’ve seen that occur since the declaration by Ontario,” noted Mayor Kasenberg. “Don’t expect to see dramatic shifts in business closures.”

Other expected benefits from this declaration include:

Raising awareness of the seriousness of COVID-19, and demonstrating to all residents that your municipality is taking this situation seriously and taking all threats deemed present by the Mayor that they are allowed to, by law, to protect the community from the threat;
Protecting volunteers from various litigation risks should volunteers be called upon to assist with measures that protect the community;
Ensuring the municipal organization can respond quickly to other unforeseen events should they arise;
Preserving the rights of the Municipality of North Perth for future compensation should it become available from other parties, including the Ontario and Canada.
“The COVID-19 pandemic must be taken seriously. I have been calling daily for rapid responses across our organization, which has worked with distinction. While I can always do more personally, I have been firmly involved in all of our decisions made with respect to COVID-19 to this date. I have communicated broadly with our community several times. Largely, in spite of this declared State of Emergency, all the actions the Municipality has undertaken, and our approach to this pandemic situation will continue – there is almost nothing I would change about our response to this date. I am grateful that we have not had an identified case yet in our community, and we all need to change key behaviours and attitudes to keep it that way. I urge our citizens to socially distance and follow the medical guidance given by Canada, Ontario and Huron Perth Public Health. I look forward to surrendering these new powers as promptly as feasible – and will do so when medical guidance tells us that we may,” stated Mayor Kasenberg. “And Council remains involved in all other of its usual matters, with our next meeting – a virtual meeting – planned for April 6, 2020.”

Helpful resources:

Huron Perth Public Health Unit website: www.hpph.ca/en/index.asp

Ontario Coronavirus web resources: www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus

Canada – Public Health Agency of Canada Outbreak Update: www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html