Alberta businesses face decision over province's proof-of-vaccination program

Non-essential businesses in Alberta have to decide if they want to participate in the province's restrictions exemption program or operate under stricter rules.

Non-essential business can also choose to operate under stricter rules

Orange Fitness president, Blake MacDonald, says he was already in the process of implementing a proof of vaccination rule at his facilities. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

To opt-in or not?

That is the question facing many businesses in Alberta when it comes to the province's new restrictions exemption program.

The government introduced new health measures Wednesday including restrictions on restaurants, indoor gatherings, weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment venues, and indoor sport and fitness.

But starting on Monday, businesses and events can continue operating as normal if they require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test result for patrons aged 12 or older. Those that don't will be subject to stricter limits and rules. 

The program does not apply to businesses or entities that need to be accessed for daily living.

Orange Theory Fitness president Blake MacDonald said he is pleased by the government's new measures. A program requiring proof of vaccination is something he'd been calling for.

"It was nice to hear that they listened," he said. "There's just no way we could endure another round of shutdowns and restrictions if we had to put them in place."

Chef and restaurant owner Paul Shufelt says he agrees with mandating proof of vaccination, but would have liked the province to introduce the measure sooner. (Francois Joly/Radio-Canada)

MacDonald said they were already heading in the direction of requiring proof of vaccination before the province's announcement.

"We made a decision and sent an email to our members on Tuesday essentially saying that we were moving a large portion of our classes to vaccine required," he explained.

MacDonald thinks most other fitness facilities will also opt-in to the program.

Arno's Fine French Pastry owner, Arnaud Valade, said they plan to participate in the program. 

"If we would like to survive, to keep our tables inside the coffee shop, we have to, so we have no choice," he said. "We need to work." 

Paul Shufelt, chef and owner of Robert Spencer Hospitality which runs Workshop Eatery, said he is pleased with the new program but is still critical of the provincial government.

"Initially I was frustrated, I would say confused as well too, the messaging was kind of mixed," he said. "I think more than anything, less frustrated with yesterday's decision, more frustrated with the lack of decision making and the lack of leadership in the months and weeks leading up to this. "


Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jeffrey Sundquist said some business owners say they have questions about the new program.

"While we are pleased to see the Alberta government take action, we urge the government to provide clear details about the implementation of the restrictions exemption program as soon as possible," he wrote.

"Businesses are diverse and there are many questions about how the new program will be applied. The program needs to be relatively simple for businesses to implement at their various workplaces in order to protect their staff and customers."

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Thursday that their members have uncovered plenty of confusion as they scramble to make sense of the restriction exemption program.

"Yesterday's announcement prompted more questions than answers for our business community," said Deborah Yedlin, the chamber's president and chief executive, in a statement.

"Answers and clarity are needed urgently."

Just after the program was announced, Annie Dormuth, the CFIB's provincial affairs director for Alberta, said she was already hearing from owners confused about if they will have to apply to use the program or to opt-out of it.

Others were concerned the government didn't offer guidance or training to staff around how to check if vaccination proof is fraudulent or deal with unruly patrons who disagree with the measures.

In her COVID-19 update on Thursday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province would be releasing more details on the program on Friday.

With files from Travis McEwan, Francois Joly and The Canadian Press