Voting along party lines, a majority of MPs in the House of Commons voted on Feb. 21 to approve the extraordinary and temporary measures in the Emergencies Act invoked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The governing Liberals and the NDP voted to pass the motion for confirmation of the declaration of emergency, while the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois voted against it.
The motion passed with 185 MPs voting for it and 151 voting against it.
Trudeau invoked the act on Feb. 14 to deal with the protests in Ottawa and elsewhere against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
Ahead of the vote on Feb. 21, Trudeau insisted that the use of the act is still necessary even though the border-crossing blockades and the protest in Ottawa have been effectively cleared.
“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,” he said at a press conference on the morning of Feb. 21.
“There continues to be real concerns about the coming days. But we will continue to evaluate every single day whether or not it is time and we are able to lift the state of emergency.”
Trudeau also hinted that the vote on the motion for the declaration of emergency may be a vote of confidence.
“Anyone who votes no tonight is doing anything other than indicating that they don’t trust government to make incredibly momentous and important decisions at a very difficult time,” Trudeau said.
Conservatives asked for clarification ahead of the vote as to whether it was a confidence vote.
The Liberals’ government House leader Mark Holland didn’t answer the question, saying, “It’s time to vote.”
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said following the vote that the current situation doesn’t warrant the use of the Emergencies Act.
“After weeks of dividing, stigmatizing, and wedging Canadians, the Prime Minister invoked the Emergencies Act,” Bergen said in a statement. “The Emergencies Act was not necessary to clear the blockades. The government already had all the tools they need under current Canadian law.”
Bergen added that her party has given notice of a motion to revoke the emergency.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the act was needed because all three levels of government failed to act effectively against the convoy protests.
“Our support from the beginning has always been reluctant,” he said. “We were reluctant because it should have never got to this point.”
The convoy protests were started by truck drivers opposed to the federal government’s requirement that drivers crossing the border into Canada must be vaccinated for COVID-19. As support for the protest grew, it turned into a large-scale movement, with people opposed to various COVID-19 mandates and restrictions joining the cause.
Large convoys of trucks and other vehicles converged in Ottawa on Jan. 29, with many vowing to stay until all COVID-19 mandates were lifted.
Inspired by the trucker convoy protest in Ottawa, other protesters initiated demonstrations against mandates in different parts of the country, including at major border crossings.
Most border crossings, including the one at Ambassador Bridge which connects Windsor to Detroit, were cleared ahead of the government invoking the Emergencies Act.
Following the declaration of the state of emergency, Ottawa police escalated its operations against protesters on Feb. 18, making close to 200 arrests and towing close to 80 vehicles to clear the streets in the downtown core of the capital.
Under the act, the government has sweeping powers to deal with protests, including compelling towing companies to remove vehicles and freezing the bank accounts of those involved in protests declared unlawful.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith had said ahead of the vote that he wasn’t sure the use of the act was justified, but said he would still vote along the party line because “it is now a confidence vote.”
Fellow Liberal MP Joël Lightbound, who broke ranks with his party earlier in February, criticizing his party’s leadership for politicizing pandemic policies, said ahead of the vote that the act was “a slippery slope.”
Both MPs voted in favour of the motion on the evening of Feb. 21.
The Senate must now also vote on the government’s request to use measures under the Emergencies Act. If approved, the measures can be in effect until mid-March. The government can extend its use of the act beyond that period as long as it maintains the Parliament’s approval.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.