The City of Calgary will not be implementing its own vaccine passport program, at least for now, after a committee voted against exploring the idea on Wednesday.
It comes after the provincial government lifted its restrictions exemption program as of Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m., which in turn resulted in the city’s vaccine passport bylaw ceasing to have effect.
In a vote of 4-10, members of the city’s community development committee voted against an amendment from Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott that would’ve requested administration to draft a report with recommendations, options and implications around implementing a vaccine passport program for the city.
Walcott told the committee his goal in having administration explore possible options for a local vaccine passport program was to get information necessary for council to make a decision at their meeting next week.
“This isn’t a conversation on whether or not you should say yes or no to whatever report administration comes back (with), but this is really saying yes to information,” Walcott said.
Only Walcott, Mayor Jyoti Gondek and councillors Gian-Carlo Carra and Kourtney Penner voted in favour.
Penner, who chairs the community development committee, told reporters after the meeting that there may have been a number of reasons her colleagues voted against exploring the idea — but implementing a passport program would be challenging without the information from administration.
“Without something more comprehensive, how can we actually make a decision on whether or not a vaccine passport is valuable for Calgary?” Penner said.
“Introducing it at council on Tuesday would’ve given the business community or residents or other individual citizens (the opportunity) to come and speak with respect to the item as well.”
The city’s vaccine passport bylaw has been in effect since September 2021 and made it mandatory for certain Calgary businesses like bars, restaurants and movie theatres to opt into the provincial passport system.
Ward 6 Coun. Richard Pootmans, who voted against the idea, said he has received dozens of calls from Calgarians and businesses who are in favour of lifting restrictions, including the proof-of-vaccination program.
“I just don’t feel it’s our place to be putting in confusing jurisdictions and confusing to the public around what the rules are going to be on the REP,” Pootmans said. “I didn’t think any more information about the topic would serve any useful purpose.”
The decision from the committee comes on the same day Edmonton city councillors voted unanimously to look into if and how the city should implement its own vaccine passport program for city facilities and private businesses.
Calgary councillors did vote in favour of another motion from Walcott to have the Gondek request that the Alberta government share the data used to make the decision to take a staged approach to ease restrictions, including recommendations by the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
According to Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry, the city does not receive that information as part of the updates it receives from the province.
“We receive the daily reports of case counts and basically, the information that is available publicly on the alberta.ca site,” Henry told the committee.
“We do not receive the recommendations the chief medical officer of health would’ve made to cabinet and what the discussion and detail in and behind the recommendations would be.”
Questions still remain about how the change in provincial health measures will impact city COVID-19 policies, including the mask bylaw.
City administration told the committee there will be discrepancies between the city’s bylaw and the provincial mask mandate as soon as next week.
That’s because the provincial mandate for kids under 12 to wear a mask will be lifted on Monday, but the city’s bylaw requires everyone ages two and up to wear a mask unless the individual has medical conditions or disabilities.
According to the province’s update on Tuesday, the requirement to wear masks will be lifted altogether if hospitalizations trend downward by March 1. The city’s mask mandate has not set a repeal date, and administration said it would still apply even without a provincial order in place.
As it is a bylaw, a discussion on the mask mandate can only be made during a meeting of council as a whole, which is expected to take place on Tuesday.
“Do we align with the provincial government with their potential repeal on March 1, and what do we put in place for that? Or do we continue to put something else in place?” Penner said
Pootmans said he will continue to wear a mask when in public but said it’s “not likely” that he will vote to keep the city’s mandate in place past the provincial deadline.
But Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is warning municipalities not to implement their own COVID-19 restrictions.
In an interview Wednesday with Shaye Ganam on 770 CHQR, Kenney said health care is a provincial responsibility, and municipalities’ decisions to implement health measures, like a vaccine passport, would not be based on data.
“I don’t think Albertans want to end up in a situation where municipal politicians end up improvising a completely separate public health policy when that is not their responsibility,” Kenney said.
Early Wednesday morning, Gondek tweeted criticism of the province’s decision to ease restrictions and said municipalities were not included even after requests for consultation and to provide input.
“It makes no difference whether we push or plead, whether we ask nicely or demand loudly,” Gondek said. “There is no approach and no stakeholder that can convince this government to collaborate on a pandemic response, and they will solely bear the results of yesterday’s decision.”