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Kris Austin cancels St. Stephen state of emergency, blames 'Trudeau policies' for problems

Community advocates say some homeless people have taken up shelter in a covered bridge replica building in St.Stephen, using tarps and a space heater to keep warm. (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)
Community advocates say some homeless people have taken up shelter in a covered bridge replica building in St.Stephen, using tarps and a space heater to keep warm. (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)

Less than 48 hours after it was declared, Minister of Public Safety Kris Austin terminated St. Stephen's state of emergency over its homelessness crisis.

In a written statement, and a letter to Mayor Allan MacEachern, Austin said he found "no state of local emergency exists in St. Stephen, and none existed on December 4th when your council declared one to exist."

The municipality made the declaration following the death of a man in the community on the weekend, who was found in a park.

At an emergency council meeting Monday night, council cited a failure and "lack of response" by the New Brunswick government for the homelessness crisis.

The province has failed to provide adequate resources to house, support and care for its citizens in St. Stephen, the declaration said.

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said he "finds no state of local emergency in St. Stephen" in a written response to the town declared state of emergency over homelessness.
Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said he "finds no state of local emergency in St. Stephen" in a written response to the town declared state of emergency over homelessness.

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said he 'finds no state of local emergency in St. Stephen.' (Mikael Mayer/Radio-Canada)

Austin said on Tuesday he would declare the declaration void by the end of the day Wednesday if the mayor and council were unable to prove the situation constitutes an emergency.

In his statement today, Austin said the mayor's response did not describe "anything approaching" a local emergency within the meaning of the Emergency Measures Act, which he said is meant to be used during natural occurrences such as floods, storms and security events.

He also said it "would offer no value in solving the homelessness problem."

Austin went further at the legislature on Wednesday, when Liberal Leader Susan Holt asked if he would take responsibility for the crisis in St. Stephen.

Instead, he placed the blame on the federal government.

"All of these issues that we're facing today are based on Trudeau policies, leftist agendas that are degrading our society, that we're seeing right across the country," he said.

But he then said the blame had to stop, "to ensure that people have a warm place to sleep and food in their bellies."

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said teachers have been continuously disrespected over the last few years and the first step for the provincial government is to listen
Liberal Leader Susan Holt said teachers have been continuously disrespected over the last few years and the first step for the provincial government is to listen

Liberal Leader Susan Holt demanded an apology from Kris Austin for the family of the man who died on the weekend. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Holt said the minister's statements lacked compassion and empathy.

"We have a minister who's responsible for the security of New Brunswickers and he's blaming everyone, the municipality, the federal government, and not taking responsibility for what he could do, or saying what he will do, to help the people of St. Stephen.

Holt also criticized comments Austin made Tuesday, when he said "people die all the time in car accidents and we don't declare a state of emergency."

Holt demanded an apology from Austin for the family of the man who died on the weekend.

Austin did not apologize, but said it's "heart wrenching" when anybody dies tragically and that homelessness is a global issue that a state of emergency does nothing to solve the problem.

Green Party MLA said the provincial government has failed in its response to homelessness in terms of short term and long term solutions.
Green Party MLA said the provincial government has failed in its response to homelessness in terms of short term and long term solutions.

Green Party Leader David Coon said the provincial government has failed in its response to homelessness. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Green Party Leader David Coon also weighed in, saying that the responses from Austin to the problems in St. Stephen  were not substantive.

"If saving New Brunswickers from dying in the streets of this province is a leftist agenda, I'll proudly wear that T-shirt," Coon said, adding that the government has "bungled" its response to homelessness in this province.

"Both in terms of addressing it in the short term by ensuring there are safe, warm shelters for people ... through the winter time and in the longer term to address the underlying causes of this dramatic explosion of homelessness in our province," Coon said.

"So they failed and they failed."