(File photo)

UCP present bill to wrestle COVID-related restriction control from municipalities

The Government of Alberta is proceeding with some “surgical” changes to the Municipal Government Act.

The United Conservative Party introduced Bill 4 into the legislature on March 8, in a move to reaffirm their hold over health policy in the province.

“Our goal is to ensure Alberta has one clear policy as we move forward together through the pandemic,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Rick McIver.

Once fully in place, the new legislation will supersede locally established health-related bylaws, at least where it comes to masking and vaccine mandates.

The new legislation will require municipalities wishing to establish a mask or vaccine mandate, such as the re-establishment of the Restrictions Exemption Program, to receive the permission of the Minister of Municipal Affairs to do so.

McIver noted that the way the legislation is written, he would be able to provide permission only after he consults with and receives guidance from the chief medical officer of health (CMOH).

The minister also noted that requiring ministerial approval for certain bylaws is “not without precedent,” as in order for municipalities to close roads within their jurisdictions they must seek the approval of the Minister of Transportation.

“Providing a clear and consistent policy is the way to go, we think its time to do this,” said McIver.

While the new legislation will make it harder for municipalities to pass these localized bylaws, McIver noted that if municipalities, or private businesses, feel the need to require masking in their own facilities, they are free to do so.

When asked by reporters why the CMOH advice could not be made available to the municipalities so they could make their own decisions regarding their citizens’ health and safety, McIver responded that the advice of CMOH “is for government,” and that “the city is not government.”

“It’s not up to the municipalities, and we’re putting in legislation to make that clear,” said McIver.

“One municipality is drifting out of their lane and into our lane. We’re defending our authority.”

The municipality being referred to by McIver is Edmonton, which voted on March 8 to scrap the mask bylaw since the new legislation would have forced its cancellation anyways.

When asked by reporters if the legislation would be pushed through if Edmonton dropped the mask mandate, McIver did not confirm either way, saying it was something that they “would have to think about.”

With the legislation introduced into the Legislature, it could still be several weeks before it’s passed. McIver noted that Albertans will be notified when the bill is passed in the legislature.

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