by Colin Smith
Morinville’s Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw will remain in effect until June 30 following a decision by Town Council at its regular meeting Tuesday.
Adopted last November, the bylaw had a built-in repeal date of March 31, but Council passed an amendment extending its life.
Debate on the measure showed a split among Councillors that was reflected in the final four-to-three vote, with Mayor Barry Turner, Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein and Councillors Lawrence Giffin and Sarah Hall in favour, and Councillors Rebecca Balanko, Stephen Dafoe and Scott Richardson opposed.
A response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the bylaw passed November 13 requires that masks or face-coverings be worn in all indoor, enclosed or substantially enclosed public places and public vehicles in Morinville, when active cases are at a certain level.
At the time, the Government of Alberta had yet to put in place province-wide health regulations to make wearing of masks mandatory in all public indoor spaces, which it did November 24.
Those regulations remain in effect, and Morinville residents will be required to wear face-coverings for as long as they do, whether or not the Town has a bylaw.
With the automatic repeal date approaching, the Administration presented Council with two options.
Option one was to amend the bylaw to remove the repeal date, extending the Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw until Council determines it is safe to repeal it. Option two was to allow the bylaw to expire, and rely on the provincial regulation. The Administration recommended the first option.
“Basically we would be allowing the Province to make the decision,” said Iain Bushell, General Manager, Community and Infrastructure Services, of the second option. “It comes being a question of whether Council wants to be in the drivers’ seat.”
The option one recommendation was supported by Councillor Giffin.
“I think it’s wise for us to be able to enforce face coverings, and by having a bylaw we would be able to do that,” he said. “I think that if we remove the repeal date it will be in place until we feel it should be removed.”
In debate on First Reading Councillor Sarah Hall said she felt the province had not responded to the pandemic quickly enough with a mandatory mask order.
“Based on past behaviour, and again the province was slow,” said Mayor Turner, “I feel that in order to ensure that things are consistent for as long as Council wishes them to be we leave our bylaw until such time as we are ready to remove to it.”
Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein also supported the amendment.
“I look on this as a great backup plan,” she said. “If the Province decides in three months to lift their mandatory face coverings and our numbers are still a little bit high, this covers the municipality. And I think it’s a great thing that Council has the option to bring it back at any time to end it.”
Councillor Stephen Dafoe stated that he would not support the amendment.
“I believe the Provincial Government has finally taken the right steps,” he said. “I don’t think they are going to remove it quickly. I maintain that matters of health are not up to municipal governments.”
A similar position was declared by Councillor Richardson.
“The main reason we put this through is because of the lack of Government of Alberta implementation of a mask bylaw,” he said. “We do now have that. I do think public health is a Government of Alberta thing, not muncipal councillors’, so I will not be in support, partially due to the reason there is no repeal date on it.”
Councillor Balanko expressed concern about the lack of a repeal date for the bylaw.
Richardson proposed an amendment to set April 30 as the bylaw repeal date.
“I believe this is a very emotionally charged topic,” he said. “I believe it needs to be talked about monthly.”
Richardson’s amendment was defeated, and First Reading of the amendment as initially proposed passed.
During Second Reading, Hall proposed June 30 as a repeal date for the bylaw. Her amendment passed and was followed by passage of Second and Third Reading.
The Town bylaw requires masks or face coverings when there are at least 10 active cases of COVID in the community and a per capita rate of more than 50 active cases for a population of 100,000.
On Tuesday, Morinville had only one recorded active case.