Nova Scotia’s opposition leaders are criticizing Premier Tim Houston for comments he made about Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s state of emergency following a historic event that left much of the province covered in snow.
Over 100 centimetres of snow fell in some areas of Cape Breton between Friday and Monday, burying cars, piling on roofs and blocking roads. The amount of snow prompted Cape Breton Regional Municipality to declare a state of emergency.
Additionally, central areas of the province received 40 to 50 centimetres and parts of northern mainland Nova Scotia saw between 70 and 80 centimetres.
During a news conference Monday afternoon, Houston raised doubts about CBRM’s decision to call a local state of emergency.
“It’s not required to access resources or assistance,” he said.
Houston said declaring a state of emergency can grant additional powers, such as permitting authorities to issue fines to people unnecessarily on the roads, enter homes without a warrant, order evacuations and confiscate property — “but what a state of emergency does not do is get you a plow faster.”
“They can absolutely do that, they don’t need provincial approval to do that, we respect their ability to do that, but at the end of the process I kind of wonder what they’ll do with it,” he said.
“Will they do anything with it, or was it more of just kind of a PR issue?”
He later said that officials have a responsibility to do their best to “calm fears and anxiety and not stoke it” and reiterated the province was doing everything it could to get everything cleared up.
In a social media post late Monday, Nova Scotia Liberal leader Zach Churchill took issue with Houston’s comments.
“While Cape Bretoners are trapped in their homes and unable to make it to crucial medical appointments, the Premier brushed off their calls for a state of emergency, calling it a ‘PR issue,’” he wrote.
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NDP leader Claudia Churchill also criticized the premier’s comments, accusing Houston of “playing politics.”
In a thread posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, Chender said the comments were “rude” and “dismissive.”
“We want a leader who will respond to pleas for assistance, who will do whatever it takes,” she said. “Not get miffed when an elected body does the best they can to help the communities they serve.”
In an interview Monday, CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall said there’s been some misinformation about what the state of emergency means. The measure gives government additional powers, but she stressed that it does not ban businesses from opening, for example.
However, McDougall is reminding residents not to venture out unless it’s for an essential service, medical appointment or an emergency.
“We are limiting travel if it is nonessential. If you just need to get a Tim’s, I’m sorry, stay in the driveway. Now is not the time,” she said.
“No lollygagging, no taking pictures. Get to the end of your driveway and that’s it.”
The state of emergency is in place for seven days and can be renewed if necessary. McDougall said the plows the municipality has can’t even handle the amount of snow they’ve received, and they need larger machinery for the “slow grind” of clearing the roadways.
Meanwhile, the cleanup after the snowfall is continuing and is likely to take days.
Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan says Parks Canada will be sending snow removal equipment and the Canadian Coast Guard is sending helicopters.
Sajjan says organizations including the Red Cross will help with humanitarian work.
John Lohr, Nova Scotia’s minister responsible for emergency management, says the province had already sought help from neighbouring provinces but needed federal aid to maintain public safety.
The Nova Scotia government says provincial offices in Inverness and Victoria counties as well as Cape Breton Regional Municipality will be closed today due to ongoing storm cleanup, while offices in Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough and Richmond counties will not be opening until noon local time.
The provincial government says all other offices will be open regular hours unless they are experiencing power outages or other local issues.
Nova Scotia Health says some non-emergency services may be reduced in the Northern and Eastern zones because of heavy snow and poor road conditions.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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