How a Vote on the Emergencies Act Became a Government Confidency Vote

Canada’s Emergencies Act – Prime Minister Trudeau invoked it in order to squash the Trucker’s Convoy. The legitimacy of using it is questioned by people who remembered how often it has NOT been invoked in actions such as: CN Rail Blockade in 2020; G20 Toronto Summit Protest in 2010;  Occupy Canada in 2011-2012; Quebec Uprising in 2001.

There are checks and balances in the Emergencies Act, not the least of which are the procedural steps to ensure accountability. The government must table a motion in both the House and the Senate that asks for confirmation of the Declaration of an Emergency. Parliament then votes.

Except… Trudeau decided to turn the vote into a Confidence Vote. If the majority in the House decided that the Emergencies Act should end, then Trudeau intimated he would declare this was a vote of Non-Confidence in his government. The government would fall, and he would call another election. Of course, he did this in a press conference.

“I can’t imagine anyone voting against this bill as expressing anything other than a deep mistrust in the government’s ability to keep Canadians safe at an extraordinarily important time,” Trudeau said.
– CTV News, February 21, 2022

The Debate on the Declaration of an Emergency is reported in Hansard, Monday, February 21, 2022. It clearly shows that some Liberal and NDP members believed they had to vote the party line (a Yay vote), though they did not support the invocation of the Emergencies Act.

Trudeau was asked, repeatedly, to confirm his intention that a ‘Nay’ vote was a non-confidence vote. Trudeau did not do so. In fact, he left the House before debate was concluded. He voted remotely.

Here are excerpts of what was said:

Mr. Jean-Denis Garon (Mirabel, BQ):
Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister, the only Liberal member who has the right to speak freely, just turned what should have been a vote of conscience into a vote of confidence.
We can see from our discussions with the Liberal members that many of them are uncomfortable with these extreme measures now that the truckers are gone…
Madam Speaker, many NDP members have said that they are uncomfortable with the Emergencies Act and have even indicated that they might vote differently if there were no trucks left today.

Mr. Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches—East York, Lib.):
…I am skeptical that the strict legal test was met for the act’s invocation, and I am not convinced that the emergency measures should continue to exist beyond today.
I would vote accordingly but for the fact that it is now a confidence vote.

Mr. Joël Lightbound (Louis-Hébert, Lib.):
During the rail blockades put in place in early 2020 to support the demands of the the Wet’suwet’en, I never thought it would be appropriate to invoke the Emergencies Act. I look at the present situation in the same way…
… since 2015, the Liberal Party has had a moral contract whereby members must vote with the government on confidence votes, electoral commitments, and issues affecting Canadians’ fundamental rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Under this contract, all other votes are free votes…. If this evening’s vote were not a confidence vote, I would vote against it. However, at the very least, as we prepare to vote, I would like to have a clear and unequivocal indication as to whether this is truly a confidence vote.

Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP):
… I thought that confidence votes applied only to throne speeches, budgets and budget bills. In this case, however, there appears to be a new Liberal category called “whenever the Prime Minister feels like it”.

Mr. John Brassard:
… Earlier today, the Prime Minister signalled, as did a member of his back bench, that tonight’s vote is a confidence vote. Convention requires the Prime Minister to publicly declare a confidence vote of this nature as such…
My question for the government House leader is this: Is the vote tonight a confidence vote? If the vote is lost, will the Prime Minister plunge us into an election?

Reply from Hon. Mark Holland:  Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the debate but it is time to vote.

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