Premier Tim Houston says Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s declaration of a local state of emergency in response to the overwhelming snowstorm that dumped more than 100 centimetres of snow in parts of the municipality might be more about public relations.
“Declaring a state of local or provincial state of emergency is not required to access resources or assistance,” Houston said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
“We as a province wrote to the federal government for support and they’re responding. A state of emergency wasn’t necessary to do that, it’s kind of a human thing that you do.”
The premier said a state of emergency does have an impact.
“A state of emergency does permit authorities to issue fines to people who are unnecessarily on the roads, it permits authorities to enter homes and buildings without a warrant, order evacuations, confiscate property, order assistance,” Houston said. “These are pretty serious things that a state of emergency can do. What a state of emergency does not do is get you a plow faster, what a state of emergency does not do is get a road cleared faster.”
Houston said CBRM “can absolutely” declare a local state of emergency without provincial approval.
“We respect their ability to do that but at the end of the process, I kind of wonder what they’ll do with it. Will they do anything with it or was it more just a kind of a PR (public relations) issue.
“When it comes to the state of emergencies and the really powerful tool, we’ve issued those as a province before but in this situation right now as a province, an incredible team with the province has been working hard all weekend, they just rolled up their sleeves and got to work clearing roads and trying to keep people safe, that’s what I’m interested in.”
The premier dismissed as “an absolutely ridiculous suggestion” the notion that the province did not declare a state of emergency because it would lead either immediately or eventually to the province having to provide more in funding for those who were most affected by the storm, particularly people in CBRM and the rest of Cape Breton Island.
Houston said it is early days to talk about financial assistance for people have sustained property damage or can’t afford to get plowed out.
“I’m personally not aware of any requests for financial assistance,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that somebody hasn’t been asked. It’s very early days. As a province, when you look at what we’ve dealt with through floods, through Fiona, through the fires, I think our track record shows that we act very quickly. We’ve rolled out very innovative programs.”
Paul Mason, the executive director of the Emergency Management Office, said the office co-ordinates access to additional resources if municipalities request assistance.
“We don’t need a state of emergency for that,” Mason said, noting that the state of emergency allows governing authorities to take actions that can restrict civil liberties.
“At this time, CBRM and Eskasoni have declared states of emergency and that is appropriate,” Mason said on Monday. “The storm is still very active and intense in those regions, as well as the rest of Cape Breton. Other parts of the province were impacted to a lesser degree and are already dealing with recovery so a provincial state of emergency is not required.”
‘All hands on deck’
Mason said the Emergency Management Office is working across government with local municipalities and other partners to support requests for assistance when received no matter what part of the province people live in or what phase of the storm Nova Scotians are experiencing right now.
“We’ve been in touch with our neighbouring provinces, private contractors and our federal partners,” he said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck response for Cape Breton and Nova Scotians in this event as in any event.”
The premier said “we will dig out” from the historic snowstorm.
“To all those who haven’t seen a plow yet or are wondering when their road is going to be cleared, I’ve asked Public Works to be very frank and honest about how long it will take,” he said.
“It will take time to get to all the roads. During typical snowstorms, there is a kind of a normal plow route but as we work through this cleanup there are efforts to prioritize routes for health and safety reasons.”
Houston said the province is moving equipment from other parts of the province where the need is greater and is working with New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to acquire some personnel and snow-moving equipment.
The federal government is providing snow-moving gear from the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and he asks private contractors to help out if they can.
“No stone is being unturned when it comes to looking for plows and looking for people to operate them.”
Houston said there are a couple of roads still closed but he is not aware of any communities that are isolated by the heavy snowfall.
Matt Drover, the emergency operations lead with Nova Scotia Power, said 2,000 customers were still without power Monday afternoon and the company hoped most would be reconnected by the end of the day.
Drover said the biggest challenge is the massive amount of snow that is blocking roads and access to get the NSP equipment into affected areas.
Houston lauded Nova Scotians for helping their neighbours but cautioned against overdoing it and warned those without electricity no to use a generator indoors.