A late night meeting of Calgary city council yielded no new action on the city’s COVID-19 response.
But council did leave options open for further action from city hall.
“We remain in a state of local emergency, and we thought that it was important, because we are in a state of local emergency, for me to have the power to call back council or a council committee if needed,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Wednesday evening.
That power was made clearer through a council vote to suspend part of the procedure bylaw to allow for a response to the public health emergency.
Earlier in the evening, Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu declared a state of public health emergency and introduced a new collection of measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, increase vaccinations, and maximize health-care capacity.
Nenshi said the province’s pandemic response was once again disappointing and frustrating.
“I have had six premiers, two prime ministers. I have worked with dozens of big city mayors, some of whom were embroiled in scandal and lots of trouble. And I have never seen a government this incompetent.”
Nenshi had hoped the province would make its vaccine passport program mandatory.
“The most disappointing thing for me tonight was listening to the premier repeatedly characterizing Alberta as a place that is divided,” the mayor said. “That division, premier, exists in your mind and maybe in your caucus, it does not exist on the streets of Alberta.”
Following the council meeting, Calgary’s mask bylaw remains untouched.
The city intends to use the province’s restrictions exemption program for access to some city facilities once the province releases details that can be reviewed by city officials.
“We know the province’s broad strokes,” community standards strategist Matt Zabloski told council. “(City) administration needs to be able to review the health order to be able to respond with a city system that would be feasible and effective.”
The city’s legal department and senior management have nearly completed the vaccine mandate policy for city employees.
City manager David Duckworth said he had been in contact with his counterparts from across Canada, as well as local unions.
Duckworth said his thought process moved from a more strict mandate towards a more voluntary policy that could include weekly testing.
“I’m reticent to share anything more until it’s actually completed because I don’t want to create policy on the fly,” the city manager said.
Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra asked if it’s time for the mayor and CEMA chief Sue Henry to provide daily COVID-19 updates for the city, as they did earlier in the pandemic.
“Yeah, maybe. Leave that one to me and the chief (Henry) and we’ll figure out what cadence makes sense,” Nenshi said.
Nenshi also said he will be asking Justice Minister Kaycee Madu to reinstate powers for peace officers to enforce public health orders.
“Police officers, bylaw officers and transit peace officers have the ability to enforce (Calgary’s) mask bylaw,” Nenshi said. “They do not have the ability to enforce anything else that the province announced today: gathering limits, vaccine requirements and so on.
“So it would make more sense so that it’s not just the police and Alberta Health Services inspectors to broadly have that enforcement power.”
Wednesday morning, Calgary Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin put her support behind vaccine certification, saying city businesses have been “struggling with the uncertainty caused by the fourth wave of the pandemic and accompanying restrictions.”
In a statement, Yedlin committed to continuing to call on the province to mandate proof of vaccination for non-essential businesses, seeking rationale behind restrictions as well as a path to removing them, and getting more details on criteria for restrictions.