Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek was encouraged by communication with the province on Covid-19 regulations, but Premier Jason Kenney suggested more sparring may be ahead.
In a Tuesday evening press conference, Premier Kenney announced the rollback of Covid-19 public health restrictions. Most, if not all of the restrictions could end by March 1.
Most notably, Albertan rolled out of bed Wednesday to no Restrictions Exemption Program, which required proof of vaccination or a negative test before entry into public locations. It was rescinded as of midnight.
That also means Calgary’s Vaccine Passport Bylaw is no longer in place. The two were tied together, as the City amended theirs to be more closely aligned with Alberta.
Mayor Gondek said she’d requested a meeting of mayors over the weekend, prior to the announcement. They met with the Premier and Ministers Ric McIver and Jason Copping a short time before the rollback.
In his press conference, Premier Kenney was asked about the potential for vaccine passports and mask bylaws in cities like Calgary and Edmonton.
“In the past, we have tolerated certain municipal bylaws on public health matters. We’ve tried to be collaborative and respectful,” he said, hoping for a longer conversation with cities.
“I’d like to know if it is their intention to create an entirely separate municipal public health policy that is different and apart from that a province. I think that would be a serious problem.”
Premier Kenney said he didn’t want to turn this issue into “a political football.”
‘Very interesting perspective’
Mayor Gondek was puzzled by the Premier’s remarks.
“I thought it was a very interesting perspective from the premier to say that they have tolerated municipalities enacting public health measures. If I remember correctly, he actually requested it,” she told reporters on Tuesday night.
“He indicated to us, ‘you know, I’m not the expert in what’s happening in your city. You have the absolute legislative mandate to do what you think is safe and appropriate for your population.’”
The mayor said it was disingenuous to encourage it, then two years later say it was tolerated.
Mayor Gondek said they didn’t need to take on more health responsibility.
“We are never looking to have increased power over a ministry that does not belong to us but we are absolutely interested in making sure that we’re acting in the best interest of public health,” she said.
Alberta’s Official Opposition NDP was also concerned about the lack of cooperation with cities.
“This decision was made without consulting municipalities, some of which have their own local public health measures in place, and it was made without clear communication to Albertans about the path ahead,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd.
Shepherd also noted that the decision needed to be grounded in medical evidence.
“Public health mandates should not be set by individuals illegally blocking access to our border. It should be made when we see clear evidence that it is safe to move away from those public health restrictions,” he said.
Calgary businesses could face unintended consequences: Chamber CEO
Mayor Gondek said the city would hear more from their experts in Wednesday’s Community Development Committee meeting.
In the meantime, she said, Calgarians needed to respect the individual and business decisions being made on precautions.
Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said the province’s announcement ignores the consumer confidence aspect.
“While policies must adapt to our changing context, tools such as the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) and masking remain critical to ensuring people feel comfortable dining at restaurants, attending sporting and entertainment events, engaging in group physical activities and going to work,” Yedlin said.
Yedlin said the removal of REP was the equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid before the wound was healed. She felt there would be unintended consequences of the provincial decision.
“Businesses that rely on discretionary spending may see a decline in revenue as consumers choose to stay home and minimize the potential for exposure. Industries and public services that rely on front-line employees are already facing severe labour shortages – and jeopardizing the comfort and safety of staff is likely to exacerbate these challenges,” she said.
“Schools may see an increase in infection rates, sending children and teachers home and disrupting work patterns and productivity for many parents.”
Cohorting, sanitization still in place, says Ed minister
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange posted a letter on Twitter that she sent to schools.
She reiterated the removal of masks for kids starting Feb. 14. Masking will still be required for adults working with the schools. Cohorting and sanitization would remain in place.
“School authorities cannot deny their students access to in person education due to their personal decision to wear or not to wear a mask in schools,” she wrote.
The Calgary Board of Education told parents they would be reviewing their health measures in light of provincial changes.
The Calgary Catholic Board also said they would be determining how best to move forward.
Mayor Gondek said she thought school boards should be included in any provincial discussions moving forward.
“In addition to kids going to school, they also go to all kinds of other places in our city. And it’d be nice to be consistent in what we’re asking for,” she said.