Council kills mask bylaw but may resurrect mandate

· The Pulse

After repealing Edmonton's mask bylaw on March 8, city council is to consider two new bylaws to reinstate the mandate.

The Temporary Transit and City Facilities Face Mask Bylaw would keep masks mandatory on public transit and at city-owned facilities. Masks are currently required on transit, but that provincial provision is expected to be lifted when Alberta enters Step 3 of its reopening plan.

The Temporary Face Mask Bylaw is expected to be similar to the rescinded version, but it would have to be submitted to the province for approval under the requirements of Bill 4, which amends the Municipal Government Act to limit municipalities' power to enforce their own public health measures. The bill was introduced in the legislature at the same time as council was debating whether to repeal its temporary face-covering bylaw.

Episode 169 of Speaking Municipally, Taproot's civic affairs podcast, offered a bit of a play-by-play on the debate. Co-host Troy Pavlek questioned why some members of council who said they supported the mask bylaw voted to repeal it in light of Bill 4, even though it has not yet been passed into law.

"Why would you repeal it? If nothing else matters, if it's truly the same result, no matter what happens, wouldn't you want to show your values? Wouldn't you want to stand up for your constituents? Wouldn't you want to show why you've been elected?"

Pavlek also questioned the wisdom of the replacement bylaws to be considered this week, given the risk of further confusion around where and when masks are required.

"Not only was council performative, and trying to pretend to be on my side, and actively voting against what I wanted, (but) they didn't even have the good graces to do it with a good policy framework," he said, agreeing with Coun. Tim Cartmell's point that it makes little sense to reintroduce what council just repealed.

Two years after the pandemic was declared, Alberta surpassed 4,000 deaths from COVID-19. Wastewater data indicates a downward trend in the presence of the virus in the Edmonton zone, and hospitalizations are trending down, too, though as of March 10, the number of people in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19 was still higher than at the peak of any previous wave.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi wearing a mask during the swearing-in ceremony at City Hall in October 2021

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi voted to repeal Edmonton's mask bylaw on March 8, along with seven other members of council, though he said he did so reluctantly.

The podcast also caught up on a number of city council stories from the past weeks, including the decision to reinstate the northwest expansion of the Metro Line LRT instead of prioritizing extension to the faster-growing southwest in its mass transit plan.

"That's good news for the northwest of the city but also for St. Albert," said co-host Mack Male. "Their transportation master plan also does include plans to connect a seven-kilometre LRT from that station through St. Albert. No idea when that might happen ... It would cost over a billion dollars to do, but at least Edmonton's part of that will still be going forward as planned."

Male and Pavlek also discuss an opportunity to use the downtown CRL to fund affordable housing and public washrooms, the resurrected pilot to allow alcohol in some parks, and updates on bike lanes and the city's anti-racism strategy.