The Alberta government will be introducing amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) barring municipalities from imposing public health restrictions through bylaws, Premier Jason Kenney said a press conference Tuesday.
The proposed amendments will specifically restrict the ability of municipalities to pass bylaws that contradict public health policies and rules enacted by the province, including related to COVID-19.
“Having municipalities improvise their own policies when it is not really their area of primary responsibility is, I think, unhelpful and divisive,” said Kenney. “There has been too much division over the COVID era in our society. We need to do everything we can to put that division behind us, to not allow these lingering issues to be a divisive political football.
“We are concerned that a patchwork of separate policies across the province could just lead to greater division, confusion, enforcement difficulty with no compelling public health rationale. We need clarity, consistency and unity.”
“I am concerned that if municipalities have this power it will increasingly become a political and not a public health issue, which will generate public cynicism.”
Further details on the proposed MGA amendments will be made in coming days, he said.
In a press release, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said the proposed amendments will “create clarity and certainty for Albertans when it comes to public health policy after nearly two years of changing guidelines. We are confident now it is the right time for everyone in the province to follow the same rules to avoid confusion and frustration.”
Kenney and Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping held Tuesday’s press conference in Red Deer to outline and discuss the province’s decision to drop nearly all public health restrictions around COVID-19 effective March 1.
The changes under Step 2 of the province's reopening plan include the removal of public masking, ending all remaining provincial school requirements including cohorting, ending of capacity limits in all venues, and ending limits on social gatherings.
Masking is still required in high-risk settings such as continuing care facilities and hospitals.
Premier Kenney called the removal of restrictions prudent in light of high vaccination levels and falling hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
“The pressure on our health-care system and the people it serves is lessening and we can now move forward,” said Kenney.
Copping said the decision to remove the restrictions is based on falling levels of COVID-19 as evidenced through wastewater monitoring and decreased hospitalizations.
“We are not undertaking this lifting of restrictions without considering all solid evidence,” said Copping. “The numbers are encouraging and they are coming down and this is why our plan is based on these numbers. Our leading, current and lagging indicators all support the direction we are taking.”
The province will continue to monitor COVID-19 hospitalization rates, he said, noting isolation rules remain in effect in the province.
Starting March 1 and for the next two weeks, Alberta Health Services clinics will be providing vaccinations for children aged five to 11 on a walk-in basis. In addition, 150 pharmacies will also be offering the vaccinations for the youngsters.
NDP Municipal Affairs critic Joe Ceci is expected to speak on the proposed MGA amendments at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, said spokesperson Matthew Dykstra.