Yesterday, City Council decided to repeal Edmonton's current masking bylaw. I voted against repealing our bylaw and while I spoke to my reasoning during our council meeting, I wanted to take some time to explain my rationale here as well.
One of the many things I appreciate and cherish about local government is how transparent our decision making process is. I think it's important for Edmontonians to understand why elected officials vote the way they do.
First, I will start by saying that beyond the inherent challenges of making health related decisions during an ever-evolving pandemic, the actions of the provincial government complicated this discussion. Early in the pandemic, instead of applying consistent public health measures province-wide, the provincial government encouraged municipalities to implement their own public health bylaws to limit the spread of Covid-19 and to ensure responsiveness to local conditions. Edmonton stepped up and did so, including the introduction of a masking bylaw.
However, the province recently reversed this stance, without consulting municipalities, and signalled their intention to amend the Municipal Government Act to limit municipalities from having their own masking bylaws. I have already expressed my deep disappointment and concern over this action and behaviour, so I will focus on my decision making process as it pertains to our mask bylaw.
One of the major challenges that City Council faced in making this decision was that the provincial government has been unwilling to share Dr. Hinshaw's recommendations with municipalities or Albertans more broadly - we do not actually know what she recommended. I would be more confident in the Province's approach if they provided any of the data, modelling, analysis, or advice from public health experts that went into Cabinet's decisions to lift virtually all public health measures. I would also be more confident in the Province's approach if we hadn't been burned multiple times before by lifting restrictions too early. The City's more cautious approach has been vindicated in those cases, in my view.
I see little evidence that their decisions are being made in the interest of public health instead of politics - because they haven't actually provided any public health evidence.
What we do have is the plentiful and publicly-available evidence that masks work. The CDC and Public Health Ontario are two sources that bring together multiple studies. Masking limits spread from the wearer by providing source control, and also provides protection for the wearer. Masking is one of the easiest and simplest thing we can do to protect community members. We’ve dropped our guards several times now with subsequent waves that followed.
Given this state of affairs, I believe that as an elected official I am responsible to look at what is in my power to protect the lives and wellbeing of Edmontonians. A mask bylaw has been one tool available to cities to do just that. In deciding whether to use the tools available to us, I have to centre my thinking on the most vulnerable in society. Seniors and immunocompromised folks are at a much higher risk than others, and have already sacrificed so much during the pandemic.
Hospitalizations are still as high as they ever were during past COVID waves, our critical care units are at capacity, the BA2 variant is on the rise, vaccine eligibility for children is still limited, and wastewater data remains at similar levels to previous peaks. I also think it is important to consider Covid-19's long term effects on our society, which research is just beginning to uncover. As other health measures are lifted I continue to believe that universal masking is a prudent way to protect the most vulnerable as they finally get on with their lives.
The City conducted a survey on people's preferences regarding covid protections, that once filtered for people who live in Edmonton, showed close to a 50-50 split between people who wanted to repeal the bylaw and people who wanted to maintain it. Survey data is one factor that goes into council's decision making, but not the only factor, and when it comes to public health decisions, I want to make sure decisions are in line with the best available data and science.
Given the difficult situation Council was placed in, the experience we have gained over the last two years, and the unpredictable nature of the virus, I felt it was prudent to take a precautionary approach. I do not want masking to last forever, but lifting all protective measures at this time seems premature, and I would rather err on the side of caution.
While the mask bylaw has been repealed, and while provincial legislation may be enacted to prevent the bylaw from being reinstated, I will continue to look at the tools available to us to protect each other. This includes consideration of continuing mask rules for City facilities and public transit. In particular, I want transit to be as safe as possible as more folks start using it to get to work again.
I know that some people may disagree with my position, and I respect different points of view. Many of those different points of view were brought forward during debate with my colleagues, all of whom I respect even when we are on different sides of a vote. I believe we are all trying to do what is best for Edmontonians. For me, that meant voting to maintain the mask bylaw at this time.
I appreciate the emails and messages I have received from constituents on this topic.