(Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)

(Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)

Mask bylaws not popular in rural areas

Red Deer and Blackfalds bylaws requiring masks in public places kick in on Monday

While a number of central Alberta communities have passed mask bylaws, Lacombe County council rejected the idea this week.

Coun. Brenda Knight said the mask bylaw issue was “contentious” in her division in the northeast part of the county.

“It’s friends against friends, neighbour against neighbour and family against family.

“It’s personal choice,” said Knight, who was not in favour of a municipal mandatory mask bylaw, pointing out the province has been issuing its own health directives.

“I think we’re just going to add to the confusion, quite honestly.”

Coun. Ken Wigmore also opposed a mask move.

“I would hate to go down that road,” said Wigmore, who questioned how the county could enforce a mask bylaw.

“I think it will just pit neighbour against neighbour and we’ll come out the bad people in the long run.”

Doubts on the usefulness of a county bylaw were also voiced by Coun. Barb Shepherd.

“I don’t know why, as a rural county, we’d poke our fingers into that,” said Shepherd.

Coun. John Ireland said the county has already taken steps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“I think we do all that we can to encourage the wearing of masks in public places,” he said, adding a bylaw “falls apart with the ability to enforce.”

Lacombe County fire Chief Drayton Bussiere delivered a COVID update to council on Thursday, including his review of mask bylaws in 19 Alberta communities.

He could find only one rural municipality, the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, that has a mask bylaw.

Ponoka County operations director Peter Hall said council had talked informally about mask bylaws, but there was no appetite to bring a formal proposal forward.

“There’s no will, at this point, to deal with a mask bylaw in rural Alberta — period — I don’t think,” said Hall.

“For farm folk living in the country, it would be impossible, frankly, to enforce.”

Also, the county does not have the number of businesses and other venues where people mingle that urban communities have. Enforcing would be near impossible for the county, which has only one community peace officer.

Hall said the county is following all of the directives coming from health officials and has adjusted its operations at the county office to reduce opportunities for exposure to the virus.

Even without a mask bylaw, he estimates nine out of 10 people are wearing them in stores now.

“People are following (medical officer of health Dr. Deena) Hinshaw’s requests. I think people are taking that advice and trying to do that, and that’s probably a good thing to help us get through this.”

Red Deer and Blackfalds councils both recently approved bylaws taking effect on Monday requiring mandatory masks in public places.

Red Deer’s bylaw requires mask wearing in all public places and public vehicles.

In Blackfalds, masks will also be required in any indoor spaces, including businesses and municipal buildings and on public transportation. Those caught not wearing a mask could face a $100 fine.


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