A southern Alberta UCP MLA is calling on the province to apply COVID-19 rules on a regional basis.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes said he is hearing from people living in his constituency that restrictions should be eased.
Currently, Medicine Hat has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in Alberta.
“We really have to pay attention to the mental health effects and economic effects. Our mental health effects are just as concerning as the COVID effects,” Barnes said on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Barnes met with Medicine Hat salon owner Paul Hemsing who gathered 15,000 signatures demanding that salons be allowed to open.
Barnes said it’s time to ease restrictions on a regional basis. Barnes wants gyms and restaurants to be open again as well as a return to youth sports.
“I would suggest let’s look at this on a regional basis. I know the southeast corner (of Alberta) the best and in the southeast corner, they should open. I also know there are other MLAs speaking out for a regional approach,” Barnes said.
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said there has been growing pressure on premier Jason Kenney from within his own house when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s obviously a leadership challenge that Kenny is facing. We don’t know how big the breach is. Now we are seeing opposition within the caucus become more public about both travel and about the whole idea of COVID restrictions,” Bratt said.
Bratt said Kenney could get away with a regional approach to restrictions but likely only if vaccinations continue at the current pace.
“But if on one hand, we are saying we can’t vaccinate as many people because there’s a vaccine shortage but we are going to gradually reopen the economy, that’s a tough dual message to communicate,” he said.
A spokesperson for Jason Kenney’s office said, “The COVID cabinet committee considers a wide range of options on a continuous basis” and decisions made are based on the advice of Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and her team of public health experts.
“We understand that many Albertans are frustrated with current restrictions and we thank them for their continued cooperation as we work to safeguard our health care system,” Spokesperson Christine Myatt wrote in a statement to Global News.
Meanwhile, the owner of the Bladez to Fadez in Innisfail said in a Facebook post that “Albertans’ efforts have resulted in a WIN for the personal service industry,” adding that the barbershop will be open again on Monday when it’s allowed.
The barbershop opened on Tuesday defying the public health order that has seen many businesses close since mid-December. The owners were ticketed after two days of accepting customers.
On Thursday Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that some restrictions will be eased starting Monday.
“I don’t think they were responding to bad behaviour as much as these restrictions only work if people see they are justified and that the government has the moral authority and the science behind it to justify it,” Bratt said.
“I think some of the moral authority of the government was greatly weakened by the travel restrictions, and the stuff that’s opening up on Monday — it’s minor.”