Cities warned from declaring local states of emergency, Abbotsford mayor says

Mayor Henry Braun says solicitor general discouraged such declarations, warning of ‘chaos’

British Columbia’s mayors were discouraged from declaring their own states of emergency, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said Monday (March 23).

Speaking at the council meeting Monday afternoon, Braun said the City of Abbotsford won’t be declaring a local state of emergency and that on a phone call earlier in the day with B.C.’s mayors, provincial Solicitor General Mike Farnworth had discouraged such declarations.

Braun said that Farnworth told the mayors that local states of emergency aren’t helpful. Braun said mayors were told that having municipalities make such declarations “doesn’t work, that just creates chaos because it interrupts supply chains. And the supply chains will be managed by the provincial government.”

Braun said Abbotsford is doing its best to deal with the changes caused by the current “unprecedented” situation.

“I know you’re frustrated by the current uncertainty and that your level of fear and anxiety is easily heightened because of that uncertainty and I understand that,” he said. “Your entire city council and staff are working to help alleviate both your frustration and fears with both information and action.”

But he pushed back at critics of the city’s response, saying the city was taking its lead solely from senior levels of government and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Her orders are not suggestions or recommendations; they are orders and they need to be followed,” Braun said. “There are many competing voices, especially on social media. We have one point person and that is Dr. Bonnie Henry and while I respect the views of others, I will not succumb to the pressure of others, even doctors and nurses, much as I respect what they are doing.

“We are in a war with a virus and we have a chain of command, and Dr. Henry is our point person and we will do whatever she tells us to do.”

The public could only view Monday’s meeting online. With the public gone, the city worked to observe social distancing at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium by spacing out councillors. Several sat in the normal spots of staff, who in turn sat in seats normally reserved for the audience.

Braun also spoke of efforts to increase the number of staff members who are working from home. Henry has said everybody who can work from home should do so. But last week, a staff member voiced discontent to The News with the time it was taking for the city to ensure its employees could work remotely.

RELATED: ‘Not pro-active at all’: City Hall criticized by employee for COVID-19 work policy

RELATED: All playgrounds in Abbotsford closed

“We have a plan and it’s being rolled out,” Braun said. “Some staff are already working off site and more will join them this week … We are actively working on how to provide the services that our private businesses and our citizens need to keep operating.”

Braun also again encouraged people to head outside, while maintaining a social distance of at least two metres from others.

He cited Henry’s declarations that doing so was OK, and said he and his wife headed to Mill Lake over the weekend and saw people complying with her orders.

“We must maintain that two-metre social distance. My wife and I went for a walk around Mill Lake … We had a great round trip around Mill Lake and I would say that 98 per cent of the people we saw and encountered were maintaining separation.”

He said the playgrounds were still in use by some, though, and noted that the city took action Monday to officially close the structures.

But, he added: “The parks remain open. Dr. Henry encouraged people to go outside – just not within two metres of one another.”

Braun again urged people to help one another.

“We will continue to get through this crisis by working together,” he said. “On behalf of council, a big thank you to our first responders, hospital and health car,e personnel, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, farmers and all the others who help us continue to keep well.”

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