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You make the call

I want our readers this week to share an experience. Imagine you are a sitting member of a municipal council.
I want our readers this week to share an experience. Imagine you are a sitting member of a municipal council. You’ve just been challenged to make a decision about a health-related bylaw that will surely be controversial, no matter which way you and your colleagues decide. The extent of your medical knowledge is from Grade 12 biology and your life experiences thus far, and you have five days to research and gather input.

You can’t use your own biases, as you must decide based on evidence. Public input has been both passionately for and against the hypothetical bylaw. As you tally the barrage of emails (335 thus far as I write this) and numerous Facebook messages, the lead changes between how many are for and how many are against it. Public opinion isn’t going to help you here. Folks from both sides have threatened to never vote for you again if you don’t support what they believe is right. And anyway, you’re not allowed to let potential future votes sway you one way or the other.

A higher level of government that actually has healthcare within its jurisdiction avoids making the decision. They strongly advocate for a bylaw, but refuse to make the action mandatory, nor attach consequences for those who don’t follow their recommendations. This amuses you, as some of the emails have come from members of Alberta Health Services. Just like other times this has happened, whether it's cannabis legalization, plastic bags or smoking bylaws – they download the responsibilities, costs and legalities onto the individual municipalities. They won’t make the decision but want you to do so.

I'm writing, of course, about a mandatory mask-wearing bylaw in Airdrie.

As you read through the emails, there are healthcare professionals both for and against a bylaw. There are teachers reaching out to you instead of their own school trustees, as they assume you would have jurisdiction over schools' health policies. You don’t.

The business community is reeling. Some want the decision made for them, as to avoid being the bad guys. Others dread the added costs associated with such a mandatory bylaw, as they are still desperately trying to catch up on four months of deferred expenses. Then there are businesses that worry their surveillance cameras will no longer aid them in deterring crime, as nobody will think anything of someone with their face covered going into a place of business.

Of course, there is also the concern of supply. The costs of the products needed to comply with a bylaw have already increased significantly. What happens if you can't find product? Does that mean you’re confined? If a business runs out of masks for their customers, does that mean they must turn away any customer that doesn't have their own? What constitutes an acceptable mask?

Perhaps you can look at this from an economic viewpoint. As you make your way through the numerous notes, emails and private messages, you find folks that say they will shop elsewhere if you make the decision to pass this bylaw. You also find folks that swear they will shop elsewhere if you don’t pass this bylaw.

Last but not least, there are those both for and against that want to see certain exceptions should you pass the bylaw. Some are for medical reasons. Two asthmatics have told you that they want it passed because they are at risk if they have to wear a mask. Two others have told you that it would cause them hardship, as they already struggle to breathe.

Both sides try to guilt you with statements like, “If it only saves one life, isn’t it worth it?” Some want age restrictions. “Are you really going to charge a child?” they ask accusingly.

“What if a child gets it caught while playing and tears an ear?” another asks.

Fitness facilities want exceptions. Eateries ask how patrons are supposed to consume meals or drink. Some want masks to be worn when there are capacity restrictions in place. How would that work if you are the first person over the capacity limit? Does that mean you are turned away?

The requests for exceptions are so vast, you wonder if such a bylaw would actually have any value, or if it's even enforceable. But that doesn’t matter. You must decide one way or the other.

Well? How did you decide? If you truly took an unbiased view of this scenario, I’ll bet your head is still spinning. Did you find a happy medium? Whatever decision you made, I hope the public you serve understands that you truly did the best you could with what you had to work with.