Edmonton New Year's Eve event planners frustrated by public health rules

Despite attempts to follow public health measures, some organizers say growing cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and new restrictions have kiboshed their events to welcome 2022.

No dancing or mingling, but pool parties and trampolining OK

Rob Browatzke, co-owner of Evolution Wonderlounge in downtown Edmonton, said public health restrictions that would require them to tell patrons to stay at their tables and cut off alcohol service at 11 p.m. prompted another temporary COVID-19 shutdown. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Make way for a new New Year's Eve tradition — cancellations.

Despite attempts to follow public health measures, some organizers say growing cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and new restrictions have kiboshed their events to welcome 2022.

Adding to the frustration are measures that make some gatherings impractical while others will allow hundreds of revellers to convene.

"There's been no consistency," said Rob Browatzke, co-owner of Evolution Wonderlounge in downtown Edmonton. "Entertainment and hospitality industries have been the scapegoat for the entire duration of the pandemic."

With news last week that bars and restaurants must limit patrons to their own tables, and dancing, darts and billiards forbidden, Evolution's owners decided to shut down until Jan. 12.

The provincial health orders say bars must stop alcohol service at 11 p.m. and close by 12:30 a.m.

It's not practicable to host a New Year's Eve countdown party with these limits, Browatzke said. Evolution cancelled a New Year's Eve party with drag performers and DJs.

But as of Thursday evening, other celebrations in Edmonton that fit within the rules were going ahead.

West Edmonton Mall's World Waterpark is holding a New Year's Eve Beach Ball, with a live DJ, buffet and roaming mascots.

Spokesperson Lily Lien said the water park will run at half capacity, and there will be no dancing. Mascots will keep their distance from guests and people can only consume food and drink while seated, among other measures to keep symptomatic people away. She said the event will meet all public health rules.

Other venues that have listed indoor New Year's Eve events include trampoline parks, and bars with bands slated to perform.

"I certainly am carrying a little bit of bitterness toward governments that seem to be implementing these rules with no consistency or no backup plan in place to offer supports," Browatzke said.

Kelly Bourdages, left, is lead singer and guitarist of the country band Trick Ryder. They were slated to play a new year's eve show with fan club members hoping to dance. They were prompted to cancel the show when public health restrictions changed to prevent dancing at events to help stop the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. (Submitted by Kelly Bourdages)

He'd like to see the province offer another round of grants to aid small businesses battered by public health restrictions.

Justin Braatinga, press secretary to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, said the government is watching the situation and will "provide further supports if deemed necessary."

Country dance party becomes cowboy's lament

Also flustered by the changing rules is Kelly Bourdages, lead singer and guitarist for country band Trick Ryder.

The group was planning a private dance party with Doug Bishop and the Hurtin' Horsemen at the Calder Community League for 200 guests.

Bourdages said he checked twice with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to ensure the event could go ahead as planned.

But the rules changed on Dec. 24. When CBC contacted AHS to gauge how the event fits within public health limits, inspectors called Bourdages and said the bands had to cancel.

Bourdages said he's tired of mixed messages from the provincial government and inconsistent standards for different industries.

"If they said, 'No, we don't want you dancing; you can still have your event, but we don't want you dancing' — we know that's not going to be followed," Bourdages said. "People, when you put liquor into them, they don't follow the rules at the best of times."

He questioned how well other venues will be able to enforce the restrictions.

Alberta Health spokesperson Lisa Glover said the rules are based on what the government knows about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

"These decisions were not made lightly and are largely focused at reducing contacts in large settings, such as major events, large capacity venues, and reducing certain discretionary activities where there is a high risk of transmission."


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.


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