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Surgical: Alberta MGA changes limited to masks, Covid vaccine rules

Alberta Minister Ric McIver said the proposed changes to the Municipal Government Act were very narrow and he expects it will have little impact on municipalities.

McIver spoke with media Tuesday about Bill 4, Municipal Government (Face Mask and Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination Bylaws) Amendment Act, 2022.  It states that any municipal bylaw requiring a mask to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, or relating to Covid-19 vaccines, will need to be approved by the Minister, in consultation with Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

The announcement came just as Edmonton was debating keeping their mask bylaw in place. They voted to repeal right now, but also voted 7-6 to prepare a new bylaw for the minister’s approval.

Minister McIver said the proposed changes will limit local governments from imposing mask bylaws on private businesses.

“That’s not to say that those grocery stores, retail businesses themselves can’t put in a mask mandate if they want to,” McIver said.  

“They could do that before Covid. They could do that during Covid. And they’ll be able to do that after Covid Alberta businesses are able to make these decisions for themselves.”

He also added that just like businesses, municipalities would be able to implement mask mandates in facilities they own.

“The only thing they cannot do is override the Covid-specific rules put in place by the health department when it comes to masks and vaccine proof of vaccines,” he said.

He echoed previous comments from Premier Jason Kenney that this provides clarity on public health rules.

More Covid knowledge

McIver addressed a common sentiment that at one time the province allowed cities to make these public health decisions.

“That, indeed, was a period of time when we had much less experience with Covid. A year and a half less experience,” McIver said. It was also a time when we didn’t have near 90 per cent vaccination, he said.

“We have a lot more experience and knowledge than we had a year and a half ago because, let’s face it, Covid was brand new to most of them two years ago.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she believes Premier Kenney threw something out there and Minister McIver had to respond.

“I’m a little disappointed that our minister is not being given the opportunity to lead,” she told media Tuesday evening.

They were concerned about the MGA being opened up with no municipal consultation. Still, Mayor Gondek was relieved the changes were specific. Previously, there was concern that it could be a wider change that impacted other bylaws.

“We did send a letter. We did have conversations indicating if you open up the MGA without us that’s going to be a travesty,” the mayor said.

“And so, I think Minister McIver did the most responsible thing that he possibly could, which is to surgically open up the Municipal Government Act and make the little changes that he needed.”

The rules will go into place when the legislation is passed.