New legislation would prevent municipalities from making their own health mandates

Provincial MGA changes would prevent municipalities from making their own mask mandates

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With the lifting of most remaining COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta, the UCP announced Tuesday it would introduce legislation to limit the province’s municipalities’ ability to make bylaws contrary to provincial public health policy and expertise.

Premier Jason Kenney announced that the proposed amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) would restrict the ability of municipalities to pass bylaws that contradict public health policies and rules enacted by the province.

“As we safely move beyond COVID restrictions, we need clarity, consistency and unity,” Kenney said. “It would be confusing and divisive to have multiple different public health policies, particularly when there is no compelling public health rationale. It is time for us to move forward together.”

Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver added that after two years of constantly changing guidelines, the proposed MGA change would create clarity and certainty for Albertans on public health policy.

“Municipalities have asked the provincial government to take the lead on public health policy many times in the past, and we are confident now is the right time for everyone in the province to follow the same rules to avoid confusion and frustration,” McIver said.

This was not the government’s position earlier in the pandemic when Alberta municipalities were left to decide for themselves if mask mandates were appropriate or not.

If passed, municipalities would not be permitted to have their own mask mandates as provincial legislation supersedes municipal bylaws where those bylaws are inconsistent with provincial legislation.

Public Interest Alberta called on all government members of the Legislative Assembly to oppose any amendments introduced to the MGA.

“Albertans and municipal leaders are sick and tired of the erratic nature of Jason Kenney’s decision-making,” said Public Interest Alberta Executive Director Bradley Lafortune in a media release after the UCP announcement. “At a time when people and municipal partners are looking for stability and autonomy to make the best possible decisions for our local communities, we simply cannot trust Jason Kenney to respect its partners.”

Lafortune went on to call Premier Kenney’s announcement “another slap in the face to municipal leaders.”

“If the Premier is serious about building a recovery for Alberta, he must work with partners and allow them to make informed decisions for their municipalities. This means pressing pause and reversing course on plans to introduce new laws that will strip municipal leaders of their ability to govern.”

Public Interest Alberta were not alone in opposition to the UCP move. Alberta Municipalities President and St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron called the Premier’s decision an unfortunate turn of events.

“The Government of Alberta’s intended course of action – amending the MGA – was never formally discussed with us. No conversation, consultation, or collaboration occurred between the provincial government and Alberta Municipalities on this important topic,” Heron said in an Alberta Municipalities statement. “Alberta Municipalities finds the provincial government’s ‘top-down’ approach to be heavy-handed and unnecessary. It seems like a short-term political calculation that could influence long-term governance decisions at the municipal level.”

Heron went on to say her association is concerned the move is precedent-setting.

“[If] the provincial government can amend the MGA whenever a local government disagrees with it or wishes to take a different approach, then municipalities will have lost some of their autonomy and some of their freedom to decide and act locally in the best interests of their residents and businesses,” Heron said. “We ask the Government of Alberta to reconsider its decision to amend the MGA, and we encourage it to work with us and other key municipal government stakeholders to resolve the issue another way.”

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