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Innisfail mayor wants better provincial consultation on COVID

Jean Barclay says municipalities need more lead time before province makes huge changes to public health policies
MVT Innisfail mayor Jean Barclay
Innisfail mayor Jean Barclay says the province did not offer adequate consultation opportunities with municipalities before "swiftly" moving into its three-step plan on Feb. 8 to phase out current COVID restrictions. Submitted photo

INNISFAIL – Mayor Jean Barclay has called on the Alberta government to have better consultation with municipalities before making sudden sweeping changes to major public health policy like the Feb. 8 announcement to move into a three-step plan to phase out current COVID restrictions.

“What municipalities are worried about is the lack of consultation - in several areas and this is just one of them,” said Barclay. “We learned just yesterday at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. that the REP (Restrictions Exemption Program) was being lifted at midnight.

“You are not giving anyone any kind of lead time, and it impacts everyone. I think more consultation and collaboration with municipalities would be greatly appreciated,” added Barclay. “I think we have seen that through this whole journey with COVID; announcements made very quickly and direction changed without much warning, and it’s very difficult.”

The announcement for the first step on Feb. 8 removed the REP, including the proof of vaccination requirement, as of Feb. 9, as well as restrictions on sale of food and beverages and consumption while seated in audience settings. Restrictions on closing times, alcohol service, table capacity in restaurants and interactive activities will remain in place.

For all businesses, venues and facilities capacity limits are removed, except for facilities with capacity of 500 to 1,000, which will be limited to 500, and facilities with capacity of 1,000-plus, which will be limited to 50 per cent.

As well, effective Feb. 14 masking requirements for children and youth 12 and under will be removed, as will all masking for children and youth in schools for all ages.

Barclay said Kenney’s announcement was not surprising but “came quickly, the REP was lifted swiftly.”

Barclay said “time will tell” whether the province’s plan and timing was the right decision, adding the town over the past two years of the pandemic has always been committed to following the Government of Alberta’s guidelines and public health policy and will continue to do so.

“I hope all will go well and we certainly have to learn to live with COVID in the community and I hope everyone stays safe and we can keep progressing from here,” said Barclay.

On Feb. 9, the town issued a news release stating that as a result of the provincial announcement adults are no longer required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result to participate in recreational activities.

The news release added the town is evaluating the programs it currently offers and will work in the upcoming days to review the possibility of bringing more recreational opportunities on line.

As well, the news release noted current provincial restrictions do require the Innisfail Arena to retain a maximum capacity of 500 spectators, but food can now be consumed in the viewing stands and during intermissions.

In the meantime, Innisfail, along with many Alberta municipalities, will be watching to see if Premier Jason Kenney moves on a suggestion made before the Feb. 8 announcement that the provincial government could restrict towns and cities from enacting their own mask and proof-of-vaccination bylaws by introducing amendments to the Municipal Government Act.

The suggestion that the province could remove the ability for municipalities to have options on COVID management has received push back from Alberta Municipalities, academics and individual municipalities.

Barclay said the future possibility of having options removed by the province was “disappointing."

“We are the government that is closest to the community and it would be much better to have that option,” said Barclay. “Municipalities want more autonomy. We want to be partners with the government as opposed to a parent-child relationship.”