Mandatory masking in Calgary will end when the province lifts its mask mandate. The decision came after a lengthy debate among city councillors on Tuesday.
As part of the changes to the bylaw, kids under 12 will no longer have to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, and the repeal of the bylaw is now dependent on when the provincial government decides to lift its mask mandate, rather than a set date.
Last week, the province announced changes to its mask requirements including no longer requiring kids under 12 to wear a mask in public or in schools.
That change at the provincial level created a discrepancy with Calgary’s mask bylaw, which had a minimum age requirement of two years old.
The city’s bylaw also didn’t have a set repeal date, while the provincial rules now have a targeted end date of March 1, depending on a continued downward trend of hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
“We are still in an environment where the mask mandate applies. It applies provincially, it applies municipally,” mayor Jyoti Gondek said following the debate.
“March 1 is the date we’re all going to be looking to see if there is some sort of evidence that we should be lifting the mask mandate. It may be that it’s extended past March 1, we don’t know.”
Gondek said she supported alignment with the province because of the difference in minimum age requirements.
Council voted 13-2 to make the changes to the bylaw official with Councillors Gian-Carlo Carra and Kourtney Penner opposed.
The effort to align the city’s mask bylaw with the provincial health orders was spearheaded by Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean, who brought forward an amendment to the city’s bylaw.
McLean said while he initially wanted to repeal the bylaw altogether to automatically bring the city under provincial health rules, he opted to amend the current bylaw.
He added that health is a provincial responsibility, and urged council to stay consistent with last week’s vote on a local vaccine passport program.
“The majority of council overwhelmingly decided last week that the city should not pursue its own vaccine passport and should align with the province; so let’s be consistent,” McLean told council. “We are not doctors, but there are many health-care professionals in Alberta Health Services and they, along with the provincial government, have stated that masks will no longer be required as of March 1.”
Council’s initial vote on McLean’s motion to set an expiry date for the mask bylaw was narrow.
It passed in a vote of 8-7 with Councillors Jasmine Mian, Raj Dhaliwal, Richard Pootmans, Jennifer Wyness, Courtney Walcott, Carra and Penner opposed.
Other councillors, including Penner and Wyness, proposed the idea of later expiry dates for the mask bylaw after the easing of provincial restrictions to give council more time to assess the pandemic situation.
Penner said she couldn’t support the changes to the bylaw due to a lack of information.
“‘Let kids be kids’ is not science,” Penner said in reference to a line used by provincial officials.
“I think it is prudent that if we are going to be making data driven decisions, that we get the data and that we also give time to see the data and the impacts of changes.”
As part of the vote to amend the mask bylaw, city councillors also supported an effort by Gondek to request the data that was used by the province to drive its decision to ease public health measures.
Gondek said council still has many questions about the province’s decision to rollback health measures and hopes that information from the province and the recommendations from chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, would help provide some answers.
“What I was hoping for was to be able to receive information from the chief medical officer of health and then, in an informed manner, lift our mandate. That’s not the way it went,” Gondek said.
“We’ve been thrown into an environment where (the province) has handed something down that, if we don’t agree with, that personal responsibility they wanted us to take is all we have left.”
Calgary Emergency Management chief Sue Henry told council the lack of information from the province is partly why city administration recommended the alignment with the province.
“We’re not in control of the metrics, and we’re not able recommend to you any other data that suggests a different metric,” Henry said. “We are in recommendation that we align with the province.”