Bill overruling local mask laws 'a precedent we don't appreciate,' Alberta municipal leaders say
Mayors and councillors vote to oppose proposed provincial police service models
Legislation preventing cities from creating their own mask mandates without the provincial government's permission is the "exact opposite" of collaboration, says the president of Alberta Municipalities (AM).
Cathy Heron said Wednesday the provincial government's move to table a bill attempting to overrule a city of Edmonton mask mandate was a poor way to resolve its differences with the city.
"It sets a precedent for future legislative changes, when all of a sudden, a municipality and the government of Alberta disagree, and that's a precedent we don't appreciate," Heron said at a spring municipal leaders' meeting in Edmonton.
Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver introduced the bill in the legislature Tuesday. If passed, Bill 4, the Municipal Government (Face Mask and Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination Bylaws) Amendment Act, would require any municipality to seek the minister's permission to impose bylaws requiring masking indoors or vaccine passports for epidemic diseases.
If the bill passes, municipalities could still require masks or proof of vaccination inside their own facilities and on transit without the minister's permission.
When McIver addressed the gathered municipal leaders on Wednesday, he referred to the issue as the "elephant in the room." Leaders had previously said they opposed McIver opening up their governing legislation without their input.
"I hope if you're not happy, you're at least relieved," McIver told them. "That was always our intention, to be narrow focused."
McIver told reporters later the province had to make clear that public health decisions are provincial turf and "we're not going to give it up."
He said he felt confident his relationship with municipalities remained strong.
Heron said the province's engagement with municipalities is selective, depending on the issue. Provincial leaders are not listening to municipal leaders' voices about policing, she said.
Provincial policing models rejected
Also on Wednesday, AM members passed a resolution to oppose both proposed models for an Alberta provincial police service devised last year by consultant PwC.
The Alberta government hired PwC to study the potential transition costs of adopting a provincial police service and propose ways a provincial service could work.
AM members also voted to request the Alberta government hold a provincial referendum before terminating any policing contracts with the RCMP.
- Replacing RCMP with Alberta police force would cost more but could be more locally responsive: report
They agreed to advocate for the government to invest more into the justice system and social services that help prevent crime.
Earlier in the day, some leaders questioned Justice Minister Tyler Shandro on what problems the Alberta government was trying to solve by proposing a replacement for the RCMP in rural Alberta and some smaller cities.
Shandro told reporters local residents don't have enough input into the RCMP, such as the ability to choose a detachment commander or appoint a police commission.
"I think that we should have some better governance and oversight — that municipal leaders are included in the oversight and setting priorities in working with local police officers," Shandro said.
But some leaders say any new expenses should fund improved services and relationships with the RCMP, rather than a duplicate force.
The PwC report found that adopting a provincial police service would cost Albertans hundreds of millions more dollars each year, and the province would lose about $170 million in federal policing funds. It pegged the transition costs alone at a minimum of $366 million.
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara said his town pays for a 17-member RCMP detachment and has a great relationship with the police.
He said he wonders who would pay for a provincial policing building in Edson if the town was forced to make a switch.
"The issue with rural crime is not about the police force, it's about the justice system not performing well," Zahara said.