Alberta’s Premier has given tacit approval to Calgary’s incoming mask mandate, arguing policies around face coverings are best made by local lawmakers and that complying is about courtesy, rather than government overreach.
Organizations representing businesses in the province are cheering city council’s new bylaw, which orders people to wear masks in indoor public places and public vehicles that do not have physical barriers as of Aug. 1. Councillors passed the bylaw late Tuesday, and city administration said the intent is to hold off on issuing fines in favour of education.
Calgary is the first major centre in Western Canada to pass mandatory mask regulations. Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday said his government will respect the decisions municipalities make related to masks, which experts believe can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. He favours masks in public places where citizens cannot practise physical distancing, but the provincial government has not made them compulsory.
“We think these decisions are better taken locally,” Mr. Kenney told reporters when asked about Calgary’s new bylaw. “The challenges that a very dense city might face on crowded buses couldn’t be more different than a remote rural municipality where there are no active cases.”
Wearing a mask is not a sign of fear, trepidation or “subjection to some big government mandate,” he said. “It is just a mark of consideration and I believe that’s very much part of the Alberta spirit.”
Sandip Lalli, the president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said the bylaw will bolster consumer confidence while helping to protect employees and customers from the virus.
“It is something our business community wanted,” she said in an interview. “This is a responsible step.”
The bylaw, she said, will level the playing field as businesses try to lure customers back because it sets a baseline of expectations.
Edmonton earlier this month rejected the idea of making masks mandatory on transit. Don Iveson, that city’s mayor, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Calgary intended to first vote on a bylaw mandating masks on transit, and then consider expanding the rules later. However, the recent explosion of COVID-19 cases in the city spurred Calgary’s councillors to act immediately.
Adam Legge, the president of the Business Council of Alberta, also backed the new bylaw as COVID-19 picks up momentum in Calgary. Three areas in the city are on the province’s watch list, meaning they have more than 50 active cases per 100,000 people. There were 635 active cases in the Calgary zone as of Tuesday, according to data released Wednesday. The day prior, Calgary counted 589 active cases.
“We do acknowledge that was probably the right move in light of what we’re seeing in Calgary,” Mr. Legge told reporters. “We do applaud the city of Calgary for taking that measure.”
Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia, expects Calgary’s bylaw to translate into more people wearing masks because it creates an expectation. He warned, however, that public shaming could lead to backlash. Instead, officials should put a positive spin on the rules by noting that by wearing a mask, people are doing good things for their communities.
Calgary’s plan to pass the bylaw but largely refrain from issuing tickets for those who violate the rules fits with that strategy, Dr. Taylor said.
“It creates a strong social expectation that this is the right thing to do – that you should be wearing a mask if you care about your community.”
The provincial government is in the midst of distributing 40 million non-medical masks to the public through venues such as fast-food restaurants. “We think the best approach, on a provincial level, is public education and making masks available to people,” the Premier said Wednesday.
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