“We’ll get through this together as a community, no question about it,” Smith told Global News Peterborough.
Smith says he and MP Maryam Monsef spoke Wednesday night. They weren’t talking policy or politics, he says, but were trying to figure out what’s needed to make sure the region succeeds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we all need to recognize is that there are no partisan lines with this disease. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Conservative, you’re Green, you’re NDP, you’re Liberal, whether you don’t like politics or not,” Smith says. “COVID-19 can affect anyone.”
The PC MPP was back in Queen’s Park Thursday to help push through two pieces of emergency legislation: bills 186 and 187.
Bill 186 is aimed at workers who have to take time off because they’re either ill with COVID-19, in social isolation or caring for someone who is sick with the virus, Smith said.
“We want to make sure anyone who is away from work because they can’t be at work has a job to go back to when this is all done,” Smith said.
Bill 187 focuses on municipalities. Under the Municipal Act, municipalities cannot hold meetings via teleconference or video conferencing. Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien has said it is difficult to move the day-to-day business of a city forward when gatherings of even small groups are discouraged due to COVID-19.
The new legislation would allow municipalities to meet virtually without holding an in-person public meeting under certain circumstances.
“But they still need to be transparent and allow people to watch what council is doing,” Smith said. “We need to give them the tools to still meet, to still do the business that they need to do, but we also need to make sure the public can keep an eye on whatever anyone is doing in government.”
Smith acknowledges that it has been a challenge to stay on top of the flow of information in an ever-changing landscape.
He says the province is holding multiple briefings a day, which MPPs then try to get out to as many people as possible.
The key, he says, is to make sure people aren’t panicking.
“We will get through this, and we will get through this better than most other countries and provinces, simply because of the structures we have in place.”
Smith, who serves as the minister of energy, northern development and mines, says part of his job is more or less on hold right now.
Most government business is shut down, and MPPs are limiting travel to within their own constituencies.
“We’re staying in the riding and working with the people at ground level, making sure we have everything in our own areas looked after,” Smith says, adding that any ministry work is getting done by staff working from home, and it’ll still be there at a later date.
Meanwhile, Smith is pushing the same message that health units and multiple levels of government have been pushing: Wash your hands often and don’t go out if you don’t have to.
Smith says it’s important to put community during the next few weeks.
“If we think, ‘community first,’ then we’re going to do the right thing,” Smith says, adding that the best way to protect yourself is to make sure everyone around you is healthy.