Edmonton mayor declares state of local emergency

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has declared a state of local emergency.

'This is an unprecedented situation for our city and for the world,' Don Iveson says

Edmonton city council meets for special meeting Friday afternoon to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has declared a state of local emergency.

He was urged to do so by city manager Adam Laughlin at an emergency advisory committee meeting Friday, a meeting called by the mayor after a special council session.

The declaration gives the city extra power to coordinate services, restrict travel, distribute essential supplies, evacuate people and animals, enter places without a warrant and procure or fix prices on essential products.

Laughlin said with the increase in COVID-19 cases, it's time to take the drastic measure, which gives the city the power to control travel to, from, and within Edmonton, 

During a news conference following the meeting, the mayor said the decision wasn't made lightly. 

"In particular we are doing this so we have the powers should we need them to keep people safe," Iveson said. "This is an unprecedented situation for our city and for the world."

Although the mayor has the ability to make the declaration, the decision was supported unanimously by council.

Laughlin said city staff have been assessing the ability to keep people safe with "normal powers in relation to prohibiting or controlling local movement."

"We don't believe we have enough," he said. 

Particularly, council expressed concern over the heightened risk of spread in the homeless population. The measure allows the city to insist people move from one area to another. 

The city is working with the province to prepare the Expo Centre as a homeless shelter, which will include health services and measures to self-isolate.

The state of local emergency lasts for seven days. The mayor acknowledged that it's a dramatic measure but one available to council under the law. 

"There's legislation in place that empowers council to delegate extraordinary authority under extraordinary circumstances to city administration," Iveson said. 

Free transit and parking

The City of Edmonton will also offer free public transit and parking in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Laughlin made the recommendations to city council in an update Friday on how the city is dealing with the pandemic. 

City-owned parking lots will be free of charge and fees for curbside parking operated through E-Park zones are dropped, for now. 

Laughlin said the measures are meant to "improve social distancing and hygiene concerns of patrons."

The new measures will begin Saturday.

Edmonton Transit bus drivers will not issue transfers and riders will be asked to board through the back door, he said.

Laughlin also suggested the city eliminate penalties for people who can't pay their property taxes by the July 1 deadline. The city is considering extending the payment deadline to Aug. 31.

He said the tax-relief measure will mean the city will be short on cash. 

"If they can pay, they'll be helping to keep the city running," he said.  

Utility bills should be deferred, Laughlin added. Individual customers would have to let their utility provider know if they can't pay their bills. 

The city also set to close city hall as encounters between visitors and security have gone up in the past week, Laughlin said.