Calgary city council will repeal their face coverings bylaw when the province removes their mask mandate.
Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean pulled the Covid-19 update item from the consent agenda at Tuesday’s Combined Meeting of Council. The intent of that was to add an amendment to repeal the face-covering bylaw.
McLean has said that in order to avoid confusion, particularly around the differing age restrictions, it was easier to go with provincial rules.
Covid-19 case numbers have dropped, and as a result hospitalizations and ICU numbers are plateauing. Aligning with the province on this made sense, McLean said.
“Frankly, like so many others, I am tired of all the disagreements and division over this virus,” he said in the opening on his amendment.
“What I’ve been hearing all week from Calgarians is they want us to stay in our lane and to please align with the province regarding health measures.”
McLean said that health matters are provincial responsibilities. With that in mind, we need to leave health measures to the province, he said.
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp asked administration about potential challenges in being out of alignment with the province. The City’s Matt Zabloski said one of the big hurdles would be in enforcement. With the city’s own rules, they only have local peace officers to enforce. With the provincial mandate, they have provincial resources.
“Administration would have recommended that the approach to this repealing in alignment with the province makes the most sense from an administrative standpoint on this one,” Zabloski said.
An amendment was added to make the date contingent on when the province removes its mask mandate. It will not necessarily be March 1. If the province extends the date, so would the city.
Impacts to workers, services
Couns. Terry Wong and Kourtney Penner both asked about Covid impacts on City of Calgary staff and services.
Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry said that things are improving; service reductions and staff shortages have reduced.
“We are in a much better position on that,” Henry said.
Calgary Transit GM Doug Morgan said they’ve been able to increase service levels because of a reduction in worker shortages.
Still, Penner said she didn’t support the move to repeal the mask bylaw. She wanted to wait until at least March 8 to see the data the province uses to support the end of their mask mandate.
“I think it is prudent that if we are going to be making data-driven decisions that we get the data and that we also give time to see the data and the impacts of changes,” she said.
Coun. Evan Spencer said Calgary took a leadership role throughout the pandemic. The city stepped ahead of many on implementing a mask mandate.
Times have changed though.
“We now know the impact – some of the negative impacts in particular – on families, friendships, on circles of influence,” he said.
“Where I find myself today is if the province believes that this is the next best thing for us to do, they rightly state they have more data, they have more money to direct at this problem. Fine. Let’s give it to the province with the backdrop of the strong efforts that Calgary has made to do its level set best to make sure that the impact of this pandemic was minimized mitigated here in the City of Calgary.”
He wants to see the conversation evolve and get on track with collaboration with the province.
Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian, however, said that since the city brought it in, we should be thoughtful about taking it out. She sees the problem with a lack of data.
“I think as decision-makers, it’s incumbent on us to try and get that information,” she said.
Mayor appreciates the collaboration
Mayor Jyoti Gondek supported the overall motion after it was amended.
She said it took some time to hash everything out, but she was happy with the process. She has said in the past that this debate has become one of politics rather than science.
“It took us a long time to get there because everybody had things that they needed to say. But I’m impressed with how respectful that debate was,” the mayor said.
The mayor reiterated that part of the motion asked that she request the data from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health that the province will use to make a mask mandate decision.
The mayor reminded Calgarians the mask rules are in place until at least March 1, but encouraged them to take whatever precaution they deem necessary moving forward.
“I would say to people that if you are more comfortable wearing a mask, please continue to do so. You see me with mine on, you will see a lot of my colleagues with theirs on, you will see a lot of people who are out in public with their mask on. You’ll see a lot of businesses who stick to the goals of restriction exemption program.”