Premier Jason Kenney has changed his tune on whether municipalities can create their own public health restrictions and is now floating the idea of blocking them from doing so.
Appearing in a livestream on Facebook on Thursday night, the premier told his viewers that next week Alberta will outline its plans for lifting health restrictions that were implemented because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was asked whether he could stop cities from creating their own health restrictions.
The premier explained that under the Municipal Government Act, each municipality does have the right to create its own health bylaws.
“But we will certainly take a look at that,” Kenney said.
“If the province moves ahead safely to broadly lift our public health measures but we have municipal politicians improvising their own local policies, I think that would be a matter of great concern.”
The comments contradict what the premier has said about the issue in the past.
“We’ve said we’ll respect the decision of municipalities in that regard. We think these decisions are better taken locally,” Kenney said at a news conference on July 22, 2020.
“Municipalities representing about 90 per cent of the population have already brought in various mask mandates based on their own various conditions. We respect their authority to do so,” he commented on Nov. 25, 2020.
But now he insists Alberta Health has more data and is better equipped to make the decisions.
“The province, of course, has the right to consider economic impacts and mental health impacts,” Andrew Knack, the city councillor for Edmonton’s Ward Nakota Isga, told Global News.
“Nobody would fault them for that, but just trust us enough to share the data. Be transparent.”
Knack said the province is considering the more difficult route by looking at changing the Municipal Government Act when it could simply provide municipalities with the data backing up its decisions to lift restrictions.
“Premier Kenney is right — we don’t have the same information and data,” St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said Friday. “They are responsible for health in the province.
“But at the same time, the mayors in the province understand the local context of their community, and I think decisions need to be made… with input from both levels of government.”
Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank pointed out no action has actually been taken just yet.
“Of course any municipality doesn’t look forward to having its powers curtailed, and there’s many good reasons not to do that, particularly in this situation,” he explained. “But right now, it’s really just speculation.”
A health law expert says the premier would be within his rights legally to change the Municipal Government Act, but adds that she believes doing that could get tricky.
“Municipalities regulate bike helmets, they regulate the locations of cannabis stores, they regulate all sorts of other health and safety type issues that you can’t just take that power away from them,” said University of Calgary law professor Lorian Hardcastle.
Heron told Global News she reached out to Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about Kenney’s comments. She said she was told the comments are just hypothetical and that no action has been taken.
Global News asked the premier’s office why it could not provide municipalities with the data to allow them to make their own rules. A response has not been received.
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