EDMONTON — In lifting nearly all of Alberta’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday his government will also soon introduce legislation preventing municipalities from imposing their own public health bylaws.
The moves are a shift away from what Kenney described as a “divisive” situation where masks and restrictions have come between people, and toward laying down a path “to move forward with some optimism.”
“As of midnight last night, Alberta has lifted basically all of the remaining public health restrictions that were in place,” Kenney said at a news conference inside a Red Deer restaurant.
“I have to say it was a bit odd coming in here not wearing a mask, but it was also pretty awesome.”
As the province approached Tuesday’s announcement, questions had lingered about what cities would do if they had their own public health restrictions in place even while the provincial government got rid of them.
Kenney provided an answer by announcing that legislation would be brought in as early as next week preventing municipalities from imposing restrictions. The government plans to amend the Municipal Government Act to enact the changes.
On Tuesday, while the United Conservative government lifted mask mandates for indoor spaces — aside from public transit, continuing care and Alberta Health Services facilities — Edmonton was set to keep its own indoor mask requirements for the time being. A decision by the city on the future of that requirement is expected soon — a meeting about it is scheduled for next week.
Calgary, meanwhile, moved to drop its masking requirements in line with the province.
Kenney said preventing municipalities from imposing their own restrictions would help remove “uncertainty and confusion.”
“We are doing that because we need to move forward together,” said the premier. “There has been too much division over the COVID era in our society. We need to do everything we can to put that division behind us; to not allow these lingering issues to be a divisive political football.”
However, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called the decision an “overreach” by the province and “deeply disappointing.” He said the changes could potentially impact future city bylaws aimed at things that have nothing to do with COVID-19.
Sohi also said he would consult with the city’s legal department to see if there’s any way to challenge the province’s move.
Along with ditching masks on Tuesday, Alberta dropped indoor capacity limits, operating-hour restrictions and social gathering limits. Mandatory work-from-home orders are also lifted for Alberta, but isolation periods for those who test positive for COVID-19 remain.
The premier asked that those who still wish to wear masks are respected: “These Albertans must be respected for their choices in a free society.”
The province dropped its vaccine passport on Feb. 8 and non-ICU hospitalizations have been trending down in Alberta ever since. However, third doses of vaccine are lagging in Alberta and the province is below the national average for uptake.
The day the province dropped vaccine passports — which let businesses and venues avoid public health restrictions by checking patrons’ vaccination status — there were 1,532 non-ICU hospitalizations. On Sunday, there were 1,141.
“We cannot live forever in fear,” said Kenney. “We are made to encounter one another, to see each other’s faces, to smile, to embrace our family and friends, to regain the social lives that have been so deeply impaired for the past two years.”
The province will monitor hospitalization rates before making a determination for the final phase in lifting remaining restrictions, like masking on public transit and mandatory isolation when infected.
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