On June 25, Edmonton City Council voted to amend the Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw in response to the provincial Open for Summer Plan (July 1).
The recommended option (and motion on the floor) was to align with the provincial health regulations. Other alternatives were provided for Council’s consideration as part of the report.
I want to be clear that I would’ve voted “NO” to the motion on the floor. Edmonton was a leader in instating a mask bylaw before the Province and they had the opportunity to continue to be a leader. This was a nuanced decision, but one in which key factors needed to be considered:
- Variants of Concern (e.g., Delta). We know that fully vaccinated individuals have contracted COVID-19 Delta variant right here in Alberta. We have a significant portion of the population that does not have their first or even second dose putting vulnerable groups at heightened risk.
- My background in Social Planning indicates that once measures are removed, they are harder to put back in place. If case counts go back up in the fall, as many are speculating, and the bylaw is reinstated compliance will likely be lower.
- Social disorder. We have now put public health responsibility on individuals and businesses. Many businesses will likely continue the mask requirement in their stores to comply with Occupational Health and Safety regulations (the requirement to create safe working conditions for employees). Individuals will continue to choose to wear masks for their comfort. Given what we have already seen, this will lead to unnecessary confrontations in public spaces.
- The alternatives were fair and balanced in terms of meeting the rights of individuals and public health considerations. For example, one recommendation was reaching the threshold for 50% of the population fully vaccinated which was estimated to occur by early August. Given that even as Council was debating new information from the Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health was coming in, this delay is significant in seeing how the context changes with the Provincial opening.
I also want to highlight that there is a reason Bylaws are required to have three readings in our democratic process. The time for three individual readings allows the public to see the bylaw, register to speak at 2nd or 3rd reading, and send their thoughts to their Council representatives. It also gives Councillors the opportunity to reach out to the people they are meant to represent. While three readings can be given to a Bylaw in a single meeting, on contentious issues such as this, I would have supported the delay of third reading to allow time to hear from residents of ward Anirniq on this important issue.