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Calgary council balks at possibility of local vaccine passport system


A council committee shot down the idea of looking into crafting a municipal replacement for the restrictions exemption program

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Calgary city council is showing little appetite for a local vaccine passport system after Alberta’s Restrictions Exemption Program abruptly ended Tuesday night.

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Council’s community development committee heard an update on COVID-19 Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Premier Jason Kenney rolled out the plan to lift virtually all pandemic containment measures within the next three weeks.

One of the biggest question marks for the city is how to handle municipal bylaws related to COVID. Calgary’s mandatory mask bylaw for public indoor spaces can stay until council votes to remove it, but the vaccine passport bylaw, which was directly tied to the REP, has now been automatically rescinded.

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Questions have been swirling for days about whether council would step in to make new proof of vaccination rules, and city officials said Wednesday they have the jurisdiction to do that. But the committee, with all 15 members of council participating through most of the meeting, sent a clear signal that they’re not willing to make their own replacement vaccine passport.

Coun. Courtney Walcott proposed asking city officials to present options for a Calgary-specific proof of vaccination program next week. The move would have been for information only, with decisions about any new bylaws coming later.

But council members shot that down in a 10-4 vote. Only Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, Kourtney Penner and Walcott were in favour. Coun. Evan Spencer was absent.

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The decision stands in stark contrast to Edmonton’s next move. City council in the capital voted unanimously on Wednesday to get a report on options for a local proof of vaccination system, and Edmonton officials could have a proposed bylaw ready by the end of the week.

Kenney said in his Tuesday evening address that while local bylaws aimed at dealing with COVID have been “tolerated” in the past, he’d like to see municipalities follow the provincial government’s timeline for removing public health measures.

“I think turning a public health policy like this into some kind of a local political football is not helpful,” he said.

In a series of social media posts Wednesday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said municipalities were “frozen out” when it came to the plan to lift pandemic measures despite asking for more consultation and input.

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“It makes no difference whether we push or plead, whether we ask nicely or demand loudly,” she 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 (Tuesday’s) decision.”

Calgary councillors did support a separate request Wednesday that the mayor ask the province to show the city the data that informed the latest COVID decisions.

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Mask bylaw’s future still unclear

Unless something changes, the city will be out of step with the province on mask rules within just a few days.

The provincial plan lifts the requirement for children younger than 12 to wear a mask in public starting Monday. But the city’s face coverings bylaw applies to everyone age two and up, with some exceptions for medical conditions and disabilities.

The province is also removing mask rules in K-12 schools starting next week, but since schools aren’t considered a publicly accessible space, the current city bylaw doesn’t cover them.

The provincial government is also on track to lift the indoor mask mandate for everyone, regardless of age, on March 1. If Calgary’s bylaw is still in place at that point, it will still apply, and you could be fined for going without a mask in a public place where it’s required.

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Any council decisions about changing or rescinding a bylaw can only be made at a full council meeting — the next one is set for Tuesday.

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Penner said the future of Calgary’s mask rules is an outstanding question that elected officials will have to address.

“Do we align with the provincial government, with their potential repeal on March 1 — what do we put in place for that? Or do we continue to put something else in place?”

Coun. Richard Pootmans said he’s skeptical about keeping Calgary’s mask bylaw beyond the expiry of the provincial mandate, but he’ll personally continue to wear a mask in public for some time and council will need to discuss the value in encouraging others to do the same.

But he doesn’t see the point of giving a municipal vaccine passport any more thought, adding he’s gotten “overwhelmingly, dozens of calls” in support of that stance.

“I just don’t feel it’s our place to be putting in confusing jurisdictions and confusing the public what the rules are going to be with the REP,” he said.

masmith@postmedia.com
Twitter: @meksmith

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