EDMONTON — The Alberta government has introduced legislation to limit the authority of municipalities to impose COVID-19 mask and proof of vaccine rules.
Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said Tuesday that municipalities will now need provincial approval to pass such strictures on private businesses.
But McIver said local leaders will still have that power when it comes to municipally-owned infrastructure such as recreation centres, buildings and arenas.
“We believe aligning municipal bylaws with the provincial approach to public health issues will benefit Albertans by providing certainty and clarity about public health rules related to COVID-19,” McIver said after Bill 4 was introduced in the house.
“If (municipalities) want to require local businesses to force their customers to wear masks, they will need permission from the minister of municipal affairs.”
Most municipalities cancelled their own COVID-19 health bylaws in lockstep with the province when it dropped almost all health restrictions and masking rules on March 1.
The City of Edmonton, however, kept its own indoor masking bylaw in place.
Just hours after Bill 4 was introduced, Edmonton councillors voted to end the mask bylaw, but not before Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told council, “We are treated like kids by the province. So, it’s a really sad day.”
Asked by reporters if the province will proceed with the legislation if Edmonton city council ended its mask bylaw, McIver said, “I think you’ve rightly pointed out something that we’re going to have to think about.”
Cathy Heron, head of Alberta Municipalities, said Bill 4, the Municipal Government Amendment Act, has potentially harmful ramifications.
“We are concerned that the government of Alberta is setting a troubling precedent by amending the MGA – Alberta’s principal piece of legislation governing municipalities – without prior consultation,” said Heron, whose organization represents cities, towns and villages across the province.
“Alberta Municipalities appreciates that the provincial government kept the scope of these legislative amendments very narrow, but we continue to believe that the best public health decisions are those based on science and data, rather than on political differences and calculations.”
Opposition NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci said the legislation was an unnecessary overreach by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government.
“For a government that claims it’s a grassroots party and a premier who even signed a grassroots guarantee, the UCP is launching a direct attack on local democracy and the wishes of Albertans,” said Ceci.
There are still masking rules in place provincewide on public transit, in continuing care facilities and in hospitals.
Also Tuesday, Alberta Health announced children between the ages of 12 and 17 can receive a booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine next week as long as there has been a minimum of five months since their second dose.
The province says appointments for those third doses can now be booked for March 14 onward at Alberta Health Services clinics and participating pharmacies.
Health Minister Jason Copping also announced that effective 4 p.m. Thursday, AHS will no longer require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or regular rapid testing of its workers.
There are 1,106 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 77 in critical care.
— with files from Daniela Germano
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press