Red Deer city council has given final approval to a municipal mask bylaw for all indoor public spaces — including those with fewer than 15 patrons.
While several city councillors admitted they are half expecting a province-wide mask bylaw to be announced on Tuesday, when Alberta Premier Jason Kenney plans to reveal new measures to reduce viral cases, the majority on city council still opted to push forward with a municipal mask bylaw.
All but two councillors approved third and final reading of the amended bylaw on Monday. Councillors Tanya Handley and Coun. Buck Buchanan voted against it.
The new rules take effect in all indoor public places and public vehicles on Nov. 30, and have a March 1, 2021 sunset clause, at which point it would end or be renewed.
But City Manager Allan Seabrooke said if Kenney announces a provincial mask bylaw on Tuesday, then that one would supersede anything that the city passes.
Coun. Frank Wong successfully introduced an amendment to retract a previous exception that had been passed on first and second reading of the bylaw. It would have exempted all businesses with fewer than 15 patrons from having mandatory masking.
Like most other councillors, Wong felt this exemption would be confusing for shopkeepers and patrons of businesses with fluctuating customer numbers.
Hardly any businesses in the downtown or in strip malls are large enough to serve 15 or more clients at a time, he added, so allowing that exemption would have made the bylaw ineffective.
Bars and eateries are already excepted from the bylaw, as are child care centres. The new rules will also not apply to children under nine, disabled people, and anyone engaging in heavy labour.
It will apply to passengers in public vehicles, like taxis or rides for hire, but not to drivers where there’s a barrier installed. Businesses are required to display signage.
The fine for not wearing a face covering in a public place will be $50.
This bylaw is about protecting public health and preventing future lockdowns and more business closures, said Mayor Tara Veer.
While Handley said she “strongly encourages” mask use, she does not believe in legally mandating it. Buchanan was concerned the bylaw could not be enforced and could disadvantage smaller businesses.
But other councillors spoke out for the importance for mandatory mask use at a time when Red Deer’s COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising.
Coun. Ken Johnston noted three cases seven weeks ago are suddenly now 141 cases. The health system could soon become stressed, he added.“This is about a virus. It’s not about rights and freedoms…”
Coun. Michael Dawe spoke of the need for people to respect the city’s decision, regardless of whether they agree with it. “This is a vote for hope” that maybe something can be done to stem viral transmissions.
Seabrooke said a week is needed to inform businesses about the new masking bylaw, so the new rules will take effect on Nov. 30.