The Alberta government’s Jan. 22 announcement that public health orders and business restrictions would remain in place for the foreseeable future seemed to have been a tipping point for many rural Albertans.
As this week’s coverage illustrates, frustration was mounting among businesses, sports teams and other groups in the province last week. Prior to a Jan. 29 announcement from the Alberta government that restaurants would be allowed to offer dine-in service at a reduced capacity, a growing number of restaurants in rural towns, including Beiseker’s Arcadia Café, defied government mandates and opened their doors to customers.
Meanwhile, hockey clubs in rural communities, including the Indus Minor Hockey Association, held rallies to protest the continued lockdown of team and youth sports.
These were not isolated incidents. At the same time as the rally in Indus, hockey players held similar protests in Medicine Hat, Vulcan, Bow Island and Bentley. Other than Arcadia Café, restaurants in Bonnyville, Mirror and Mossleigh took similar rebellious stances against the government’s orders last week – regardless of potential repercussions and fines – and opened their doors to customers. They claimed restrictions impacted them disproportionately and that ignoring the government's closure orders was a matter of their business’ survival.
What most of these businesses have in common is location – small rural towns. Their frustration makes sense in this context, as smaller communities haven’t seen the same extent of COVID-19 as larger urban centres. Some rural Albertans were likely questioning why they had to abide by the same level of restrictions as people and businesses in Calgary and Edmonton, where the virus has been much more rampant.
Shortly before our print deadline for this paper, we learned Premier Jason Kenney would announce eased restrictions for restaurants and fitness facilities, starting this week. It seems the battle cry and rebellious attitude of small business owners in rural communities had their desired effect.