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Committee votes against looking into made-in-Calgary vaccine passport

A Calgary committee voted against having city admin pursue options for their own vaccine passport program.

On Tuesday evening, Premier Jason Kenney announced that the province would be rolling back public health measures. With that, the City of Calgary’s vaccine passport bylaw also expired.

Councillors got an update on the Covid-19 status in the city, and the impact of Alberta’s decision, during Wednesday’s Community Development Committee meeting.  Administration didn’t come with any recommendations for how to move forward. They were still gathering more information.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry said they’re seeing a drop in total Covid cases in the city. They’re also seeing a plateau in hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Chief Henry said it was “promising” but that she’d like to see a continued trend downward in those lagging indicators.

Matt Zabloski with the city reviewed the impact provincial mandates would have on Calgary. He said the city’s vaccine passport piggybacked the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) because it was linked to data. It also made the city bylaw flexible as amendments were made to provincial rules.

But, data moving forward could be an issue.

“Additionally, going forward is likely that there will be less access to provincial data and a lack of clear metrics for when it would be appropriate to rescind the bylaw and no control over the provincial QR code system,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Edmonton voted to proceed with gathering more information on their own vaccine passport program.

Mask bylaw

Zabloski said the city’s face covering bylaw doesn’t have a current end date. If all goes according to the provincial plan, the Alberta mask mandate would end March 1.

Young Calgarians between two and 13 won’t be required to wear masks in public places starting this weekend.  Face coverings won’t be required in schools as of Feb. 14, Zabloski said.

Again, it came down to available data.  

“If the (Calgary) bylaw is not repealed in alignment with provincial health orders, it is uncertain that the province will continue to provide access to the provincial data necessary to make informed recommendations on appropriate repeal criteria,” he said.

On Tuesday evening, Calgary’s Chamber of Commerce said the provincial rollback didn’t take into account consumer confidence in participating with local business.

“The changes made (Tuesday) are sudden – and have been announced against a backdrop of tools such as rapid testing and contact tracing no longer being available to help businesses keep staff and patrons safe and comfortable,” said Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin.

Councillors asked if the city would continue to survey the business community. Admin said they would be working with different business groups to find out how they felt about the rollback.

In the end, Coun. Courtney Walcott put forward an amendment at committee to have admin pursue options for the city’s own vaccine passport.

That was defeated. Only Walcott, Couns. Gian-Carlo Carra and Kourtney Penner, along with Mayor Jyoti Gondek, voted in favour.

No appetite for Calgary REP

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp was worried a Calgary solution would be difficult to implement. It might cause confusion, she said. Lack of data was another concern.

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said he’s wanted the city to be in line with the province from the start.

“Just to reiterate, I always have said that we should align our bylaw with the province,” McLean said.

“They have their advice from Alberta Health Services and the chief medical officer of health, so they have the most knowledge. I think we should listen to them and follow them.”

Committee chair, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said there were factors that made this a difficult decision.

Lack of data, logistics of having a proof of vaccine option, and, to a lesser degree, enforcement, likely played a role in committee’s decision, Penner said.

Still, Penner said she voted in favour of the exploration of options. It wasn’t necessarily a green light to proceed with a Calgary-made vaccine passport.

“I voted for us to have an opportunity to learn more and understand what that could look like in a Calgary context,” she said.

The item will still be forwarded with the defeated amendment, to council, on the consent agenda. They did approve of having the mayor ask for more data on Calgary’s Covid-19 situation.

The matter could come back as an urgent item, or be pulled from consent for a possible amendment. Penner thought that would be unlikely.