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Iveson: Mayors generally support stronger COVID-19 measures but cities’ ‘tool kit is limited’

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Trudeau urges local leaders to ‘do the right thing’ by imposing more restrictions as cases surge' Coronavirus: Trudeau urges local leaders to ‘do the right thing’ by imposing more restrictions as cases surge
On Tuesday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is seeing a "significant rise" in COVID-19 cases and that the federal government is making it possible with supports for businesses and local jurisdictions to "do the right thing" by shutting down and imposing restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 – Nov 10, 2020

Don Iveson said Tuesday Edmonton stands ready if stronger COVID-19 restrictions are required but said it’s difficult for any one city to make rule changes that would be effective. Measures need to be implemented at a metropolitan or regional scale to work well, he said, which would mean they would have to come from the province.

Iveson was asked about what measures cities could take to combat the spread.

“We would potentially have to go back into a state of local emergency and even powers that we have there are now subject to limitations and the ability of the province to countermand or rescind our orders,” Edmonton’s mayor said.

“Our tool kit is quite limited.

“If we were to shut business down or a portion of business down in Edmonton and drive demand out into the region, leading to outbreaks in the bedroom communities, then I think we’ve only made the problem worse,” he said.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Alberta government proposes amendments to emergency act

“That’s why this needs to be coordinated by the order of government having the strongest tools in the tool kit and the mandate and the resources and better evidence and… access to the epidemiological data themselves than the city.”

Click to play video 'Mayor Iveson on additional COVID-19 restrictions being considered for Edmonton' Mayor Iveson on additional COVID-19 restrictions being considered for Edmonton
Mayor Iveson on additional COVID-19 restrictions being considered for Edmonton – Oct 5, 2020

The city can — and likely will — extend its local face covering bylaw into next year, Iveson said. Other measures the city could take might include reducing capacity at recreation centres and other municipal buildings and going back to completely virtual meetings for city staff.

Read more: ‘Act now’: Trudeau urges provinces to strengthen coronavirus restrictions

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadian provinces and territories to “do the right thing” and protect public health as coronavirus cases continue to surge across much of Canada.

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“We are seeing record spikes this morning across the country so we urge premiers and mayors to please do the right thing, act now to protect public health,” Trudeau said.

“I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressured not to shut down businesses.”

He added that is how “we end up going out of business and hurting the economy even more.”

“Beating COVID is the only way to protect our economy,” Trudeau said.

Canada is in the middle of a very “concerning” spike of coronavirus cases, with winter expected to bring “real challenges,” he said.

Manitoba announced tightened restrictions on Tuesday — forcing non-essential stores, gyms and places of worship to close and banning social gatherings in an effort to stop a spike in COVID-19 cases. Manitoba leads all other provinces in per-capita active cases.

READ MORE: All of Manitoba moving to Level Red Thursday, tough restrictions to be implemented

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On Monday, provincial officials said Alberta had added 644 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the active number to 7,965. Seven additional people in the province have also died of the disease.

There were 192 people in hospital, with 39 in intensive care.

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Read more: No additional restrictions as Hinshaw announces 644 new cases of COVID-19, 7 new deaths

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said all options were being considered, but no new restrictions were announced for Alberta.

Click to play video '‘We really have to work together with Albertans’: Hinshaw discusses mandatory restrictions' ‘We really have to work together with Albertans’: Hinshaw discusses mandatory restrictions
‘We really have to work together with Albertans’: Hinshaw discusses mandatory restrictions – Nov 9, 2020

Premier Jason Kenney has said repeatedly the province must strike a balance between not overwhelming the health-care system and not decimating the economy.

“The premier has been very clear that his goal is to protect both lives and livelihoods,” Kenney’s spokesperson Christine Myatt told Global News on Tuesday.

READ MORE: ‘Canary in the coal mine’: Alberta doctors sound alarm on rising COVID-19 cases

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Kenney was asked Friday why more extreme measures like a lockdown similar to ones being seen in other jurisdictions isn’t being considered.

“Our goal is not to take COVID-19 to zero,” he said.

“Our goal is to keep the spread under control so it does not overwhelm the health-care system without hammering our broader social, economic, mental and physical health.”

“We do not think it’s realistic — the cost to people’s lives and livelihoods of trying to go to zero until there’s a vaccine and we don’t know when that would be — would simply be unacceptable in our view.”

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Lockdown would be a ‘massive impact’ on Albertans’ financial stability, according to Kenney' COVID-19: Lockdown would be a ‘massive impact’ on Albertans’ financial stability, according to Kenney
COVID-19: Lockdown would be a ‘massive impact’ on Albertans’ financial stability, according to Kenney – Nov 6, 2020

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke to the prime minister during a previously scheduled call shortly after Trudeau’s comments on Tuesday. Nenshi said the prime minister is very concerned about the second wave.

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“He asked what the federal government can do to help, and I said the challenge we’ve got is protecting public health and protecting the economy. And the point he made was we have programs in place as the government of Canada to protect the economy, but we really need people to stay healthy.

“We have to act and all of us have to do everything we can do: good hygiene, wash your hands, cover your cough, keep your distance, wear a mask, get your flu shot… and restrict your activities as much as you can.”

Click to play video 'Premier Kenney, Mayor Nenshi react to Trudeau’s call for more COVID-19 measures' Premier Kenney, Mayor Nenshi react to Trudeau’s call for more COVID-19 measures
Premier Kenney, Mayor Nenshi react to Trudeau’s call for more COVID-19 measures – Nov 10, 2020

Nenshi pointed out that the province announced some substantial rule changes on Friday.

“As of last week, the premier and Dr. Hinshaw told us: if the person doesn’t live in your house, they shouldn’t be in your house.”

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Calgary’s mayor said neither he nor Kenney want a lockdown. Nenshi said they also want to protect public health. He stressed it’s time for Albertans to all restrict and shrink their “bubble” or cohort for the next few weeks and months.

In terms of municipal measures, there’s not much the city can do.

“Here at the City of Calgary, we don’t have a lot of levers left to pull. We don’t have a lot of powers, but ultimately, the province does and we have to protect the public health,” Nenshi said.

“We’re at 50 per cent of ICU capacity now and at the rate this thing is doubling… it doubles very, very quickly.”

Click to play video 'Nenshi ‘very pleased’ with Alberta’s latest COVID-19 restrictions' Nenshi ‘very pleased’ with Alberta’s latest COVID-19 restrictions
Nenshi ‘very pleased’ with Alberta’s latest COVID-19 restrictions – Oct 28, 2020

Iveson has spoken to other Canadian mayors and says they’re all concerned about rising case numbers and hospitalization rates.

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“I think generally the mayors have supported stronger measures, coming in from the orders of government, having the right jurisdiction, working from the right data, knowing that the federal government — and in many cases, cities too — have put measures in place to support the resiliency of business should stronger measures need to come into place,” he said.

Read more: City of Edmonton announces new measures to address rise in COVID-19 cases

“We look to partner with all orders of government to meet the needs of Canadians to get through this pandemic and to ensure the resiliency of our economy.”

Iveson said there’s “a lot of gratitude” from Edmonton businesses for the federal government’s measures to support workers, including the wage subsidy and the rent subsidy programs.

Read more: Revamped coronavirus wage subsidy program might help more businesses, industry says

“The city stands ready to work to support business and vulnerable peoples and adjust our own operations,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, in order for them to be effective, they have to be implemented where the jurisdiction has the most impact, which is under provincial public health legislation.

“There’s a reason why health is delegated to provinces… it’s the right scale to make these decisions. I think the mayors would encourage the provinces to follow the evidence and enact the measures to protect business for the long-term and human beings and life in the short-term.

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“I would just as soon have the medical officers of health make that call rather than these calls becoming political. But clearly, if additional action is required, mounting public pressure will lead to political action too, and I think that’s what we’re hearing from across the country.”

— With files from Katie Dangerfield, Global News