Saskatoon city council votes against imposing gathering limits

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Many Saskatoon city councillors said they voted against the measure because they didn't believe the city had the legal ability to impose gathering restrictions – Oct 29, 2021

Saskatoon’s city council voted against imposing their own gathering limits to stop the spread of COVID-19, after the Saskatchewan government failed to do so.

In a special session of city council on Friday, many councillors said they didn’t believe the city has the legal authority to enact the measures.

All but one councillor voted against it, halting it upon second reading.

Read more: COVID-19: Proposed Saskatoon bylaw targets unvaccinated gatherings, places of worship

Several also criticized the provincial government for not taking further steps to protect Saskatchewan residents from the pandemic.

“The modelling and the clear advice from medical health officers is that we risk stretching this crisis over more months without more decisive action,” Mayor Charlie Clark said, stating he was disappointed in the Scott Moe’s government for not imposing gathering restrictions.

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Clark said the measure is necessary but announced he wouldn’t vote for the motion, since government relations minister Don McMorris told him the provincial government wouldn’t support the measure.

Coun. Troy Davies, who is also a paramedic, said he knew the situation was bad but that it wasn’t up to cities to impose health measures.

“Municipal politics should just stick to, ‘We’re running the city, we’re making sure your garbage is getting picked up…,’ we’re about to go into a city budget, and those are the things we should be focusing on,’” he said, speaking before the meeting.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccination proof required to visit Saskatchewan hospitals, LTC homes starting Nov. 8

Coun. David Kirton said he wasn’t voting for the measure for the same reason, though he referred to Moe’s refusal to implement further restrictions as “an amazing lack of provincial leadership.”

Ward 2’s Hilary Gough, the lone supporter, said the city should do something.

“There are no other provinces, however, where the situation of COVID has been so severe with so few restrictions, to leave municipalities in such a tight corner,” she said.

“Our health-care system is nowhere close to being prepared to care for us.”

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Emergency physician doctor James Stempien, before the meeting, said he hoped the city — or any government — would impose gathering limits.

“The last couple of shifts, I think I saw more than half of my patients in the waiting room,” he said, telling Global News some patients spend two or three days waiting for a bed.

He said the overload prevents health-care workers from giving the level of care they’d like to administer.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine: Second dose delay ‘more risky’ for seniors, experts warn

“I have elderly patients who are in pain and they’re sitting in a chair in the waiting room because there’s just nowhere else to go, because the emergency department (is) full of admitted patients because upstairs is full of patients — a lot of them who are unvaccinated with COVID.

He said he hopes the provincial government enacts guidelines the province’s medical health officers recommended on Oct. 21.

The city’s emergency management director told the council new case numbers are decreasing, but so is testing.

At any rate, Pamela Goulden-McLeod said the numbers weren’t decreasing to the point it would make any difference for hospitals in the city.

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She said case rates are plateauing and, citing University of Saskatchewan modelling, said she expects the “numbers will remain high for the next few months.”

“This will translate into further hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.”

Council did vote to ask the province to provide clarity about what a city can do to deal with COVID-19. It also voted to charge the administration with reporting back on options on how to better educate the city on the severity of the pandemic and how to better communicate Saskatchewan Health Authority modelling.

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