Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said Wednesday he has no issue with the government’s decision to supersede municipalities on COVID-19 policies. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said Wednesday he has no issue with the government’s decision to supersede municipalities on COVID-19 policies. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Red Deer mayor says health restrictions should be provincial responsibility

Alberta governent says it plans to stop municipalities imposing own health regulations

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston sees no issue with the Alberta government’s plan to ban municipalities from enacting their own COVID-19 health rules in future.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohol criticized the government’s move as “overreach” and suggested it could open the door to the province overriding municipal decisions on other fronts, such as smoking bylaws.

Johnston has a different take. The province has responsibility for health care and it has always made sense that it would determine what regulations should be in place to protect public health, he said.

The mayor does not see the provincial government’s proposal as moving into an area where it did not already have jurisdiction.

“(Municipalities) don’t have the expertise, advisory bodies, resources or legislative weight,” to determine health policy, he said.

Despite those limitations, Red Deer did enact municipal health restrictions in the first year of the pandemic.

After much debate and after waiting for weeks to see if the province would move to require masking, Red Deer city council imposed its own mask bylaw for all indoor public places in November 2020.

Within days, the province rolled out its own masking regulations, which superseded the city bylaw.

Johnston said the city’s preference would have been for the province to have introduced masking regulations sooner, rather than council having to tackle the issue.

He chalks the situation up to the learning curve that came as all levels of government looked for the best way to respond to an unprecedented health challenge.

Premier Jason Kenney, who had previously defended municipalities’ rights to impose their own health restrictions, said on Wednesday it was now time for a united approach.

“As we now leave broad-based COVID restrictions behind and move, I believe, to an endemic phase of COVID-19 it’s important that we do so with unity and clarity as opposed to division and confusion,” said Kenney, at a news conference in Innisfail, where he was announcing a rural broadband initiative.

“There is no longer a compelling public health rationale to maintain those policies.”

Kenney accused those criticizing his move as politicizing a health issue.

“We should not allow politicians at any level to use COVID policy as a political tool to make political points. These are public health issues that have to be addressed through a public health lens and the province is primarily responsible for public health.

“As we move forward, we need to move forward together, united, not with endless political bickering over restrictions that will only cause greater confusion.”

Kenney said it’s time for a “one-Alberta” approach and to avoid a situation that could leave Albertans confused about what health rules are in place depending on the municipality.



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