Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said the province should consult with municipalities before proposing changes to the Municipal Government Act. (Advocate file photo.)

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said the province should consult with municipalities before proposing changes to the Municipal Government Act. (Advocate file photo.)

Municipalities would retain the right to enact masking policies in city-owned facilities, says Red Deer mayor

Ken Johnston would like municipalities to be consulted before changing MGA

The City of Red Deer could still impose future mask rules within its own facilities — despite pending provincial government changes, said Mayor Ken Johnston.

Johnston doesn’t share concerns expressed by some Alberta municipal leaders about upcoming changes to the Municipal Government Act around masking and vaccine mandates.

But the mayor agrees with the Alberta Municipalities group that there should have been consultation between the provincial government and cities, towns and counties before these changes were put forward.

“I believe in it personally,” said Johnston, “at least to get some feedback.”

Alberta’s UCP government wants to amend the Municipal Government Act. In future, any municipality wanting to enact masking policies to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, or enact rules relating to COVID-19 vaccines, would first need to get the approval of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, in consultation with the chief medical officer of health.

The provincial government has stated this would prevent a patchwork of different rules being imposed by various municipal governments on private sector operators such as grocery stores and retail businesses.

While some other Alberta mayors believe the province is over-reaching into municipal territory, Johnston thinks it makes sense to have one set of rules that apply to all private businesses in Alberta.

A customer entering a Tim Hortons outlet in Red Deer should have the same expectations about whether to mask or not mask as someone entering a Tim Horton’s in Lacombe or Innisfail, said Johnston.

He stressed municipalities don’t have jurisdiction over health, which is a provincial responsibility since Alberta Health has qualified experts.

If the City of Red Deer becomes strongly concerned about rising COVID cases in future, it could still impose masking or vaccine mandates on its own city-owned facilities, said Johnston.

And if city councillors ever felt the province was foot-dragging on imposing public health rules province-wide, they could pressure the government through the Alberta Municipalities group and in other advocacy ways, he added.

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said the county followed the province’s lead and did not introduce any of its own health restrictions during the pandemic, and still maintains it does not have the expertise to determine health regulations.

“We have relied on (Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr.) Deena Hinshaw and the provincial government and all of the staff at Alberta Health Services to provide that expertise.”

While Wood understands the desire to ensure health regulations are consistent as well as the need to keep residents safe, he feels it would create confusion to have different health restrictions depending on the community.

“There has to be a balance… If the loss of authority was with something within our jurisdiction I would be more concerned.”

(With files by Paul Cowley).

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