City council to decide if Edmonton will continue with mask bylaw
Edmonton's face covering bylaw still in effect while province lifted its mask mandate a week ago
Edmonton city council will discuss Tuesday whether the city should keep its face-covering bylaw in effect, one week after the Alberta government lifted its mask mandate around the province.
Edmonton is the only municipality in the province that still has a mask mandate in effect.
Coun. Sarah Hamilton said she's heard from many residents who want to keep the mask bylaw for now but said that the province removing its mandate has created confusion and conflict.
"I'm keeping an open mind but I absolutely understand that residents are tired of the confrontations," Hamilton said in an email Monday. "Regardless of what council decides, I'm concerned about the contingency plan in the event we have another severe wave of COVID-19."
The City of Edmonton brought in its mask bylaw in the summer of 2020, before the province introduced its own mandate.
Many staff at retail stores and restaurants, pubs, theatres and clubs are tired of having to police the mandate.
Scott Bladon, director of retail operations at the Blush Lane Organic Market in Edmonton and Calgary, said the company will follow what council decides but he expects masks won't be mandatory for much longer.
"I'm looking forward to moving forward," Bladon said Monday. "Hopefully in the next few weeks we'll be able to see the mask mandates relaxed, in Edmonton as well."
If the city lifts the bylaw this week, staff at Blush Lane will continue to wear masks for the next while, Bladon said.
Politics at play
Brendan Boyd, a political science professor at MacEwan University, said it's not a bad idea to have the mask bylaw if most citizens support it.
"I don't see it as bad public policy, I see it as good public policy," Boyd said Monday.
He said it may be prudent for the city to keep restrictions in place to try to avoid another wave of COVID-19 in Edmonton.
"Obviously that may not happen again but on the other hand, I don't think it's irrational to want to keep it around for a bit longer to make sure."
Premier Jason Kenney announced last week he plans to introduce an amendment to the Municipal Government Act to prevent towns and cities from enforcing their own public health measures.
Boyd said the city acting on its own could affect the longer-term relationship between Edmonton and Kenney's government.
"It would highlight that the idea of a reset of municipal-provincial relations … that may have occurred with a new mayor coming in and Don Iveson being replaced by Amarjeet Sohi — the opportunity for a reset is probably becoming less likely."
Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, said she thinks the city should stay its own course.
"I fully support Edmonton city council wanting to continue this mask mandate until we have a clearer idea of how we're going to come out of this fifth wave," Mithani said.
While the province has lifted almost all restrictions, the Omicron variant remains highly transmissible and the number of people in hospital with COVID is still relatively high.
"My concern here with this fifth wave, with the Omicron wave is that dropping these protections too quickly and too aggressively will lead to a sixth wave," Mithani said.
"I don't see what the rush is, especially with things like with vaccine requirements and with masks, which really have no significant negative impact on the economy."
Mithani said it's prudent to continue wearing masks — KN95s if possible — even if the governments don't mandate it.
"We do know that masks work, that is without question."
The special city council meeting on the mask bylaw is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.