By Tim Kalinowski on February 25, 2021.
City council voted to reject a motion from its Community Safety Standing Policy Committee which would have allowed the City’s current Temporary Face-covering Bylaw to expire on Tuesday as previously planned, and instead voted to extend the bylaw until at least April 30.
As chair of SPC, Coun. Ryan Parker brought the committee motion, which passed 3-1 last week, forward for the full council’s consideration.
He again reiterated that with a strong provincial masking order in place the local bylaw was now redundant, and he answered critics of himself and fellow Councillors Joe Mauro and Blaine Hyggen, who, he says, have wrongly accused them of being anti-maskers because of their respect for provincial health orders over local bylaw enforcement when it comes to COVID-19.
“I believe when we made our decision back in August, and I will now tell you straight up that probably my vote wasn’t the right vote, seeing how the numbers went,” he stated. “I think that is fair, and it is okay. But I think a lot of the time the community stereotypes the three people that voted against that bylaw that we are anti-maskers. And I can tell you straight up not one of us has ever said we were anti-mask. We had different logic and different reasoning, but I think the common theme was we believed the responsible use of masks are very important. The common theme was we follow Alberta Health. Some people have painted us with the brush that we are the anti-maskers, and that is not factual at all.”
After the committee motion was defeated 5-4, Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro brought forth an alternate motion for city council to extend the masking bylaw until Dec. 31 with the instruction, as suggested by Coun. Jeffrey Carlson, city staff bring back an amended version of the local bylaw which harmonizes the medical and other “exemption” sections with provincial standards.
This bylaw’s expiry date was later amended to April 30 by suggestion of Mauro, and this passed by a vote of 5-4.
“Our numbers (in Lethbridge) are increasing,” stated Miyashiro, speaking to the main motion, “and our numbers are not where they should be. When we put our first facial covering bylaw in place we had zero (cases), as Coun. Hyggen pointed out, and now we have 200 (cases). If we don’t keep doing all the steps we need to do to try to reduce the risk of spreading this virus, it is going to get worse.”
Mauro responded that he felt the exercise was pointless, and amounted to fear-mongering on Miyashiro’s part as no matter what city council decided to do with its bylaw the provincial masking order would still be in place.
He pointed out some councillors appeared to be playing politics over the issue simply because they seemed to mistrust the provincial government.
In keeping with this theme, Hyggen asked Miyashiro point blank if he would respect the expertise of the Chief Medical Officer of Health on the issue?
Miyashiro said he likely would, at least under certain conditions.
“If the Chief Medical Officer comes out and says this is under control, “we don’t have to do anymore of the highly restrictive things we can do. We don’t have to wash our hands anymore, we don’t have to social distance anymore.
“We don’t have to wear facial coverings.’ If the Medical Officer of Health can come out and say that, and then absolutely someone can come back and say we don’t need this anymore. And I won’t fight it.”
However when pressed by Hyggen, Miyashiro admitted he would still likely doubt the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s advice if she decides to remove the mandatory provincial face-covering order anytime soon.
“If the facial covering policy provincially is removed,” he said, “and we still have the numbers we have in Lethbridge, I don’t think we are safe to stop doing it.”
This led to a further testy exchange between Mauro and Miyashiro in which first Mauro was ruled out of order by the chair for taking personal shots at Miyashiro’s “expertise” on the issue, and then later to Miyashiro being ruled out of order after calling Mauro “stupid.”
Spearman later acknowledged while there was a provincial bylaw in place at the moment that he, for one, still has misgivings about the provincial government’s COVID response when it comes to a mandatory masking policy in Alberta.
“I think there have been people whose memory is faulty,” Spearman stated. “Last year, right from the first wave through the second wave, the provincial medical officer of health was strongly recommending that people wear masks. It was the premier of Alberta that mandated masks be made compulsory on Dec. 1, 2020. After the month of November, when this province had become the highest per capita rate of infection in the country. That was a disgrace.
“Four per cent of this province,” he later added, “believe this government has done a ‘very good job’ combatting the pandemic: Four per cent. That’s who we are relying on. So I am proud to say we should extend this mask bylaw, and we should all do our best to keep our businesses safe, to keep our people safe, and make sure we continue to do it going forward until this pandemic has been defeated.”
Council voted to extend the local Temporary Mandatory Face-Covering bylaw until April 30 by a vote of 6-3. Mauro, Parker and Hyggen were opposed.
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