Kenney says municipalities will be prevented from imposing public health measures

It’s a decision, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says the city was not consulted, calling it an overreach on the province’s part

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The Alberta government will remove the ability for municipalities to impose their own public health rules, Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday.

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It’s a move Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the city was not consulted, calling it an excess on the part of the province.

Kenney said his United Conservative government plans to introduce legislation as early as next week that would amend the Municipal Government Act to require Alberta cities and counties to align with the province’s COVID-19 public health measures. .

“We’re doing this because we need to move forward together,” Kenney said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“We are concerned that a patchwork of separate policies across the province will lead to greater division, confusion, difficulty of enforcement, without compelling public health rationale.”

Kenney argued that public health is a provincial jurisdiction and said he’s worried municipalities will base their decisions on politics, not science.

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Alberta’s largest municipalities have imposed COVID-19 measures throughout the pandemic independently of the provincial government, with Calgary passing its own mask regulation in July 2020, months ahead of the province.

While Calgary opted last month to repeal its mask bylaw in accordance with the end of the provincial mandate, Edmonton’s municipal mask rules remain in place.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Gondek asked why the province only seems concerned with aligning public health policy now, after allowing municipalities to act on their own earlier in the pandemic.

She said she had no details on what exactly the changes to the Municipal Government Act would entail.

“I don’t know if there’s anything we can do right now. I feel like the overreach of this provincial government is not going to end,” Gondek said.

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Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek can't understand why the Alberta government will remove the ability for municipalities to impose their own public health rules in Calgary on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek can’t understand why the Alberta government will remove the ability for municipalities to impose their own public health rules in Calgary on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

University of Calgary health law expert Lorian Hardcastle said the provincial government has the power to adjust the powers of municipalities, but argued the decision sets a “negative precedent” for the province steps in when it does not like what a municipality is doing.

“The Prime Minister has always sent the message that municipalities, businesses, schools and all these other entities can increase public health rules,” Hardcastle said. She added that it is inaccurate to describe public health as a purely provincial issue.

“Municipalities do a ton of important work in the area of ​​public health. They deal with water fluoridation, they pass safety regulations related to things like bicycle helmets, they pass regulations regarding the use of cannabis and tobacco.

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The Municipal Government Act currently gives municipal councils the power to pass by-laws on a wide range of matters, including “the safety, health and welfare of people”.

Joe Ceci, opposition NDP municipal affairs critic, said the province’s decision is a unilateral decision that “extends to all municipalities.”

“I think that’s wrong and I think there needs to be a lot more respect, involvement and dialogue with local governments,” Ceci said.

The announcement was made at a Tuesday press conference at a restaurant in Red Deer marking the end of nearly all COVID-19 health measures in Alberta. In addition to the province lifting its mask mandate, it dropped all restrictions on capacity, alcohol sales and working from home.

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Kenney did not wear a mask at the press conference, saying “it was a little strange coming here without a mask, but it was also pretty awesome.”

Wearing a mask remains a requirement in hospitals and continuing care sites, as well as on public transport. Kenney said the transit requirement remains in place because some immunocompromised Albertans have no choice but to take public transit.

Calgary Transit officials raised concerns Monday about local authorities’ ability to enforce masking rules. Alberta Health said under provincial law, only Alberta Health Services public health officers and local police have that power, leaving municipal bylaws and peace officers without enforcement ability. .

Gondek said to give these officers enforcement powers, the city would need to pass a bylaw, which may not be possible under the amended Municipal Government Act.

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  1. Calgarians are urged to continue wearing a mask when using public transportation as most COVID-19 restrictions are lifted on March 1, 2022. Photographed Monday, February 28, 2022.

    Nearly two years after the pandemic first hit Alberta, the province is cutting nearly all health measures

  2. Premier Jason Kenney provides an update on COVID-19 restrictions from the McDougall Center in Calgary.  Tuesday, February 8, 2022.

    Braid: Kenney speeds up removal of health restrictions as COVID threat remains

The remaining mask rules along with mandatory isolation requirements will be lifted indefinitely if COVID-19 hospitalization rates continue to decline, the province said.

Kenney said some Albertans will continue to wear masks and said that choice must be respected. But he also targeted those he said had “promoted a constant and unbroken message of fear” during the pandemic.

“It’s not good for individual health or social health to live in a state of fear all the time,” Kenney said.

Health Minister Jason Copping said COVID-19 remains a concern in Alberta, despite an overall downward trend in community transmission. He said the province will continue to monitor the spread of the virus and possible new variants.

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“We will have to adapt to assess the risks and make the best decisions for us and our families,” Copping said.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,225 Albertans hospitalized with the virus, including 80 in intensive care units. This compares to 1,224 hospitalizations and 83 intensive care admissions the previous day.

The province has not announced the number of new deaths, citing technical issues. The death toll from the pandemic in Alberta stands at 3,912.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Kenney said he had asked Alberta Health Services to present options to the province to remove its current staff vaccination mandate, which requires approximately 121,000 health care workers to be fully immunized against COVID- 19.

He said the vaccine mandate served its purpose but there was no longer a “compelling justification” to keep it because the Omicron variant reduces the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing transmission of the virus.

“We can’t just be mad about this when a political lever we pulled is no longer useful,” Kenney said.

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Twitter: @jasonfherring

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