‘Show some respect’: Kenney asked to back down on blocking municipal mask rules


Alberta’s premier defended his plan to prevent cities and towns from bringing in their own mask mandates Wednesday, as a municipal leader accused him of doing a “180” flip-flop on the issue.

Cathy Heron, St. Albert’s mayor and president of Alberta Municipalities, asked the premier to “show some respect” to local decision makers before meeting with Kenney in an attempt to “meditate and find a middle ground.”

“We’re caught in the crosshairs with a war, or fight, between the province and the City of Edmonton,” Heron told CTV News Edmonton.

She pointed out that Kenney’s threat to change the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to prevent mask laws is a big change from where he stood earlier in the pandemic.

“They actually very publicly said it’s in the better interest for residents if the local government made that decision. They were encouraging us to make our masking bylaws to suit the needs of our community and context,” Heron recalled.

Hours after that interview, Heron and Kenney both took turns at a podium during an announcement in Innisfail.

The premier said there was no point to having mask bylaws anymore, because communities like Edmonton won’t enforce them anyway.

“We should not allow politicians, at any level, to use COVID policy as a political tool to make political points,” Kenney said Wednesday.

But in July 2020, Kenney claimed that local mask rules made more sense than a provincial law because, “this is a very, very big and diverse province.”

The premier now argues that times have changed, and that’s why his stance is different.

“As we now leave broad-based COVID restrictions behind, and move to an endemic phase, it’s important we do so with unity and clarity as opposed to division and confusion,” Kenney stated.

Heron doesn’t want Kenney to change the MGA.

She pointed out that while health is the primary jurisdiction of the province, safety rules like speed limits and bike helmets are left to municipalities.

“I feel like there’s a win for the City of Edmonton and the province without municipal changes,” Heron believes.

“You hear the premier asking the federal government to show respect to the provincial government and that’s all that our level of government asks for in return.”

The changes to the MGA have not been tabled in a legislature bill yet, and government spokespeople would not provide a date for that other than, “in the near future.”



KENNEY’S STATEMENTS ‘DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC’

An expert in health law and policy said while Kenney likely has the legal authority to dictate this change to municipalities, his “rapid shift in tone” devalues ​​cities and towns as partners in public health.

“The premier’s comments that health is provincial jurisdiction is misleading in my view,” said Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor at the University of Calgary.

“Health is a very broad matter, it falls to all levels of government and municipalities do crucial work in public health.”

Hardcastle pointed out that local councils are in charge of health-related bylaws like where people can smoke, where cannabis shops can be set up, and if the local water supply includes fluoridation.

“The other thing I was concerned with the premier’s remarks was, he accused municipalities of wanting to politicize this issue. I think that’s deeply problematic because he’s the one facing an election and a leadership review,” she said.

Hardcastle believes municipalities and citizens would have an “uphill battle” trying to challenge Kenney’s moves in court.

The NDP hasn’t taken a firm stance either way on masking rules, but they have criticized Kenney’s approach.

“Working with municipal partners, not against them, will lead to a better public health response for whatever lies ahead,” Opposition Leader Rachel Notley tweeted.



‘WE NEED TO HAVE MASKING IN OUR THEATRES’

Some businesses are now left to decide their own rules. The Citadel Theater in Edmonton is keeping its mask and vaccine requirement in place until at least March 20.

“In order to keep our artists safe, we need to have masking in our theatres,” said Executive Director Sarah Pocklington.

She said the theater signed contracts for their current production, Peter Pan, under the rules that included masks and vaccines.

“We have had emails and comments from our patrons who are very relieved that we are continuing to be cautious,” Pocklington said, adding that a COVID-19 outbreak in her facility would be bad for her business, which has already been hurt by the pandemic.

Edmonton City Council will meet on March 8 to decide what to do with its current mask bylaw.

Masking requirements also still exist in some Alberta health-care facilities and airports, which are federal jurisdiction.


With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski


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