When it comes to whether or not to mandate wearing a mask in public spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we feel the provincial government, rather than municipalities, should have to make the decision.
The Alberta government has overseen the provincial response to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, as health falls within the Province’s jurisdiction. The Ministry of Health had the authority to mandate business and industry closures, social distancing directives and other health-related protocols.
But when it comes to legislation surrounding masks, the Province has taken a back seat. While Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, strongly recommends wearing a mask in public to help prevent the spread of the virus, the government has left the decision whether or not to mandate them to the local councils of cities, towns and counties.
We disagree with that stance, as Albertans do not live in bubbles. In Airdrie, for example, a large percentage of the workforce commutes to Calgary, where a mask bylaw will be in effect as of Aug. 1.
A major theme of Airdrie City council’s discussion about a potential mask bylaw (see story page 1 and 2) was their collective irritation in having to come up with a bylaw that pertains to public health. Councillors talked about their own lack of medical expertise, and the irony that they would be the ones burdened with making such a divisive health-related decision. They brought up how it was similar to cannabis legislation in 2018, when the federal and provincial governments downloaded decision-making onto municipalities, in terms of the specifics of how the law would be implemented and enforced.
Of course, we expect municipal governments to make decisions on our behalf, even those that are in the public health realm. In the past, City council has approved bylaws pertaining to smoking regulations, bicycle helmets, the Airdrie Blue Zones Project and other health-related topics.
But in the case of a mask bylaw, the ball should have been in the Province’s court.