Premier Doug Ford and some of his top cabinet ministers declared a state of emergency on Tuesday morning, giving the province sweeping new powers to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. But more news was included in the half-hour-plus announcement and media availability, as the government addressed the potential of looting, a date to reconvene the House to pass emergency legislation, and why shopping malls are open when nearly everything else is closed.
Evictions on hold
Ontario is placing a halt on new eviction orders for the time being.
Sheriff's offices have also been asked to postpone any scheduled enforcement of eviction orders that had been set for this week, the Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed.
Other areas including New York and multiple cities in California have also passed an eviction freeze because of the pandemic.
The House will sit Thursday
Ford announced in his Tuesday morning press conference that the legislature will sit on Thursday to pass the government's emergency legislation.
A declaration of emergency can be made and put into effect immediately by the premier, but requires consent of the House after a total of 28 days.
As all opposition parties are in support of the measure, Ford said he hopes it can be passed in one day.
"But I want to be very clear: we're doing this to make sure that the bars and gatherings of over 50 don't happen. We have to slow down the spread of COVID-19," Ford said.
Opposition parties, OCC in support
The leaders of all opposition parties released statements in support of the declaration of emergency.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she was "relieved" about the order, but called on the government to do more.
"The Official Opposition continues to await details of financial support to help people through this, including those who will see their income eliminated or dramatically reduced during this pandemic if we don’t take action. Waged workers, those working in the gig economy, and small and medium-sized businesses and community-based organizations, plus their staff, need immediate support to make it through this emergency," she said.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca added his support.
"We must do everything we can to protect the people of Ontario. These are unprecedented times, but I have confidence that Ontarians will rise to the challenge," he said.
At a press conference on Monday, before the Del Duca and Horwath both declined to say the government should be taking stricter measures to combat the pandemic.
"Ontarians are adjusting to a tectonic shift in their lives, and we all must pull together to support each other through these uncertain times," Green Leader Mike Schreiner said.
Ontario Chamber of Commerce calls for small business support
Ontario Chamber of Commerce President Rocco Rossi said the organization is in support of the declaration of emergency, but called on "all levels of government to implement measures to support small business owners who are most vulnerable at this time.”
All businesses should comply with the government's order, and focus on slowing the pace of transmission, Rossi said in a statement.
“We call upon Ontario businesses to heed expert advice and not overwhelm our medical system. Our emergency rooms should not be used as a first response," he said. “The federal government has already announced proposing changes and flexibility around extending unemployment insurance and we look forward to further details that should cover these workers and the self-employed.”
Ford urges calm
Asked whether he was worried about potential panic or looting, Ford said he had confidence in the province's police, but urged Ontarians to remain united and calm.
"You know, I just pray to God that that wouldn't happen. We have incredible people. We have the smartest and brightest people in the world right here in Ontario. We need to stick together. We need to support each other. We need to look out for each other. If you have an elderly neighbour, take care of them. If you're going to the store, maybe ask them if you can pick up some groceries. But I have all the confidence in the people of Ontario. We're going to get through this together. We're going to work together, and we will get through this," he said.
Ford asks feds for more support
Throughout his remarks Tuesday morning the premier repeatedly called on the federal government for more money to fight the crisis.
The Tories' "prudent" fiscal management has allowed it to "spare no expense" to fight the crisis, Ford said. "But we can't do this alone. We need support from the federal government."
Employment insurance needs to be "instant," the premier said.
"There's thousands of people that work in bars and restaurants, and that's why it's essential that the federal government gets moving on instant EI for people that have been laid off," Ford said.
Ford added that Finance Minister Rod Phillips is working with his Ottawa counterpart on more support for businesses affected by the pandemic, and promised news "in the next few days."
Shopping malls remain open
Though the province is ordering all non-essential businesses to close, Ontario's chief medical officer of health said shopping malls will remain open, at least for the time being.
Dr. David Williams said officials are waiting to see whether closing malls is necessary, and will be advised by health care officials on the matter.
No limits on bulk buying
Ford said he would not yet impose limits on how much people can buy of certain items. There have been some reports of hoarding, and the occasional case of outright profiteering off the crisis. The premier has said the province's supply chains have not been affected by the pandemic, so there is no reason to over-purchase essentials.