Edmonton fighting the province in effort to keep mask mandates

As the province ditches masking in most public places, Edmontonians will have to continue wearing their masks due to the city’s face-covering bylaw. However, the Alberta Government says they will be introducing new legislation to prevent all municipalities from enacting their own public health bylaws.

Premier Jason Kenney says his UCP government will make changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA), in his words, ‘very soon,’ taking away a local government’s ability to impose their own public health restrictions.

“We think it is important to be united, not divided, with clarity and not conclusions. We are concerned if we have a patchwork of different policies across the province it will create unnecessary division and confusion amongst the public,” stated Kenney.

WATCH: ‘We need to move forward together’: Alberta to force municipalities to have consistent COVID-19 rules with province

Edmonton’s mayor Amarjeet Sohi says he was not consulted about this decision. Despite the premier’s announcement, city council will still hold a special meeting next week to discuss the bylaw.

“We have shown leadership in protecting Edmontonians during the most difficult times and that was the intent of the mask bylaw, and we will continue to do that and make decisions based on what’s good for our city,” said Sohi.

A health law expert says cities can and do play a critical role in public health, and worries about the consequences of the move.

“Municipalities do a lot of important work in public health, around water fluoridation, smoking bylaws, any number of bylaws. I think the premier is really diminishing that important work by not acknowledging they are important partners in public health lawmaking,” explained Lorian Hardcastle, health law and policy expert at the University of Calgary.

“The overstep and the abuse of the MGA is something that could have far-reaching implications beyond the mask bylaw,” added Sohi.

But the Premier doesn’t see it that way.

“Having municipalities improvise their own policies when it’s not really their area, their primary responsibility, is I think unhelpful and divisive, and finally, there is no compelling public health rationale for it. I’m worried that if municipalities have this power, it will increasingly become a political and not a public health issue,” Kenney said.

The premier’s office told CityNews the new legislation will be introduced in ‘the coming weeks.’ In the meantime, Edmonton’s masking bylaw is still in effect.

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