The federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act in response to the convoy blockades in Ottawa and at border crossings has passed in a key vote in the House of Commons.
In a vote on Monday night, 185 MPs voted in favour of the act, while 151 voted against the measure.
The vote was on a motion put forward by the Liberal government that outlined their decision to invoke the never-before-used emergency powers after weeks-long demonstrations by the so-called “Freedom Convoy”.
The New Democrats sided with the Liberals in passing the motion, while the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois opposed it.
Under the terms of the act, the government had to table that motion within seven days of invoking the law on Feb. 14. The vote to approve the measures will keep them in place until mid-March at the latest and the Senate must also vote on the government’s request.
Ahead of the House of Commons vote on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dodged questions about the vote being a test of confidence in the government, meaning that if it failed, the minority Liberal government could have fallen, which would have triggered an election.
Just before the voting began around 8 p.m. eastern time Monday, government House leader Mark Holland was asked by Conservative MP John Brassard to clarify whether this was a confidence vote.
“I appreciate the debate, but it’s time to vote,” he replied.
MPs had been debating the measure since Thursday morning, though the 15 hours of debate planned for Friday were cancelled due to safety concerns as police moved in to remove protesters still blockading the streets outside.
The Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives had said last week they would not support the motion on the use of the Emergencies Act in a vote.
Meanwhile, the NDP had signaled their support would be contingent on there not being overreach into civil rights.
The Emergencies Act is subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Any action taken through the act must respect Canadians’ constitutional rights, under the terms of the legislation.
Following the vote, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair were vague about whether voting on the motion was in fact a confidence vote.
Mendicino said anyone who voted against invoking the act was making “a clear statement that they did not have confidence in this government.”
Blair denied that Liberal MPs were threatened with expulsion from the caucus if they broke ranks with the party and voted against the motion.
“This was an important vote,” he said. “I believe that overwhelmingly our caucus and other parliamentary colleagues understood the importance of this vote.
“Frankly, the question of individuals’ reasons for voting are now moot, in my opinion. The vote passed, and we will proceed.”
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The ministers also reaffirmed the government’s position that the act will be lifted as soon as possible, once police have confidence that the threat of future blockades and illegal occupations has passed.
The motion says the act will remain in place for 30 days from its invocation last week, but can be lifted any time before then.
Conservative MPs have criticized the government’s decision to invoke the act, with some pushing the Liberals to revoke the act now that the blockades that paralyzed the national capital for more than three weeks appear to be over.
Interim Tory leader Candice Bergen accused the government of using the act as a “power grab” and tabled a motion to revoke the measure following the vote.
“Liberal and NDP MPs will need to explain to Canadians why they are continuing to enforce a national state of emergency that gives the federal government far-reaching powers and authority,” she said in a statement.
The government has repeatedly justified the use of the Emergencies Act, with Trudeau saying there are concerns about the possibility that the convoy could return and force blockades again.
“Even though the blockades are lifted across border openings right now, even though things seem to be resolving very well in Ottawa, this state of emergency is not over,” said Trudeau at a news conference on Monday.
“There continues to be real concerns about the coming days,” he added.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday, Blair gave no timeline or criteria on when the measures could be lifted, saying that a “threat still exists.“
“We understand the magnitude and significance of the measures that we’ve brought in place. They are only going to be in place as long as they are required,” he said.
Since Friday, police have arrested 191 people, towed 79 vehicles, and laid 389 criminal charges on 107 people, which Interim Chief Steve Bell said range from obstructing police, disobeying a court order to assault.
At a news conference on Sunday, Bell said that the number of protesters in the city had “dramatically declined,” but measures, such as heavy police presence and fencing, were still required to “prevent the unlawful protesters from returning.”
The convoy, mostly comprising of truckers, rolled into the capital on Jan. 28, to protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures. The demonstration had since evolved into a largely anti-government movement.
On Monday, Trudeau urged Canadians to work to heal the pandemic divisions in the country.
“There’s no doubt that the last weeks have been difficult, that the last years have been painful, and that there are still challenges ahead of us. But we can’t let anger divide us,” said Trudeau at a news conference.
“More than ever, now is the time to work together. It’s also the time to reflect on the kind of future we want for our country. There’s a lesson for all of us in what happened this month. We don’t know when this pandemic is going to end, but that doesn’t mean we cannot start healing as a nation.”
Debate on a separate motion affirming the Emergencies Act invocation was tabled in the Senate on Monday, with debate expected to start on Tuesday. No date has yet been set for that vote.
At any point, the Senate, House or government could pull support and the extraordinary powers stemming from the emergencies law would be torn up.
— With files from The Canadian Press