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Town of Innisfail lifts masking policy for town hall

Unlikely Town of Innisfail will have future legal authority to enact its own public health measures
MVT Innisfail administration building masks
Innisfail town council has repealed its Mask Use Policy and staff and the public no longer have to wear masks inside the administration building. The partitions between council members and staff inside the council chamber will also be removed. File photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – With the province about to move into Step 2 of its reopening plan from COVID restrictions last week, the Town of Innisfail lifted its masking policy for its administration building.

However, the town, like all municipalities across the province, soon found itself in a position that if it became necessary to bring back its own public health policy to battle a resurgence of COVID cases, it's unlikely new provincial measures would allow it.

On March 1, the same day the province moved into Step 2, the Alberta government announced it will introduce amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to limit the ability of municipalities to enact bylaws that are contrary to provincial public health policy and expertise.

Municipal leaders from large urban municipalities have slammed the province’s move as an “unacceptable overreach," with Edmonton considering a legal challenge. St. Albert mayor Cathy Heron, who is also the president of Alberta Municipalities, said the provincial move is a threat to municipal autonomy.

Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer, said unless he is directed by council, he will not seek a legal opinion at this time whether it could introduce any new public health measures. However, he will keep a close watch on any legal challenges that might come from the larger urban municipalities.

“It certainly is a good test of what the line is regarding municipal abilities to apply measures that are often considered under the provincial government mandate, so I am definitely watching what’s happening there,” said Becker.

On Feb. 28, Becker received approval from council at its regular meeting to repeal the town’s Mask Use Policy that was passed Dec. 14, 2020 for the administration building. At the time, there was no clear provincial masking restrictions or guidelines.

“I think in future months depending on where COVID does go we could introduce this once again,” said Coun. Jason Heistad, adding his comment was a question to the rest of council.

However, mayor Jean Barclay reminded council the town has always followed the Alberta government on public health policies and ministerial orders in the two-year battle against the pandemic.

Heistad responded by saying the pandemic is “not over” and that the town ought to be prepared if the need comes that the town has to “implement anything else.”

Following the March 1 provincial announcement, Barclay said while she did not understand why municipalities would want to take on public health policy, she still hopes there will be “sober second thought” about changing the MGA going forward.

She said larger municipalities used the flexibility it had to add extra COVID protections due to pandemic challenges they were facing.

“The pandemic has been very different in different locations across Alberta,” said Barclay. “I think it is good to have those flexibilities in place but I also understand that municipalities are kind of crossing that line by moving into public health and that’s why Innisfail has always followed the chief medical officer of health.”

And if there is a resurgence in COVID-related cases in Innisfail, and the town has lost its own flexibility to add pandemic measures?

“Well then that is on the province’s watch,” said Barclay. “We need to be able to rely on them (province) and the chief medical officer of health to implement protections when they are needed.”


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