After a lengthy, and at times, emotionally heated debate, Lethbridge city council voted early Tuesday evening to extend the city’s mandatory face-covering bylaw until April 30.
Mayor Chris Spearman, along with councillors Rob Miyashiro, Belinda Crowson, Mark Campbell, Jeff Coffman and Jeff Carlson, voted in favour, while councillors Joe Mauro, Ryan Parker and Blaine Hyggen were opposed.
The municipal bylaw was first enacted on Aug. 24, 2020. It requires a face covering be worn at all times while in public indoor spaces like grocery stores, businesses and churches, as well in public vehicles like buses and taxis.
The bylaw was set to expire by day’s end on Tuesday, leaving council with just two options: extend it or let it end.
Some fiery discussion preceded a decision on Tuesday, with some arguing the bylaw was made redundant when the province’s mask mandate came into effect on Dec. 8, 2020.
“For all of you that are saying that you want to protect the community, you want to protect the citizens, you want the numbers to go down, you don’t want people to die: you’re misleading the public, because there is a mask order provincially,” Councillor Joe Mauro told his colleagues.
Mauro was adamant that on a municipal level, council should defer to provincial experts in charge of health in Alberta.
Councillor Rob Miyashiro — who was an early champion for the city’s mask bylaw last summer — thought the city should stay the course and continue to send a strong message about public safety.
“People on this city council are waffling because they can’t bring themselves to have a facial coverings bylaw extended, because they’re hoping the province is going to keep theirs in place,” Miyashiro said.
“We had our facial coverings bylaw in place months before the province did, and I can probably guarantee that we’ll have it in place months after the province revokes theirs.”
Councillor Parker says the passionate discussion on Tuesday reflects a council that’s found itself in uncharted territory over the last year.
“We are a divided council. And that’s just symbolic of the community, because everyone sits on different ends of the social spectrum.”
An earlier resolution to the extension proposed an expiry date of Dec. 31, 2021, but an amendment by Councillor Mauro passed 5-4, changing the expiry date to April 30.
Mayor Spearman says he would have rather seen the bylaw extended longer to align more closely with vaccine rollout for the general population.
Spearman says he doesn’t believe having a municipal bylaw is redundant, as it’s council’s job to look out for Lethbridge, and Alberta was the country’s last province to make masks mandatory.
“I would say, we will continue not to rely on the province of Alberta.
“I have the highest respect for the Chief Medical Officer of Health, but I know her advice wasn’t followed for a long time,” Spearman said.
On top of Tuesday’s bylaw extension, city administration has also been instructed to prepare an amending bylaw to harmonize the city’s bylaw exemptions with those of Alberta’s provincial mask mandate.