Town of HP’s mask bylaw lives to fight another day

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

The Town of High Prairie’s face covering or mask bylaw will be in effect a little while longer.

Council came within a whisker of repealing the bylaw at its July 13 meeting before Councillor Michael Long stopped it in its tracks.

By law, when repealing an existing bylaw, council must pass a new bylaw. To implement a new bylaw at the first meeting, council requires unanimous consent to proceed to third reading, which Long voted against.

Council implemented the face covering bylaw at its Nov. 10, 2020 meeting, and later amended it Jan. 12. The Alberta government followed afterwards with its own bylaw, which overrides the Town’s bylaw.

The Town’s existing bylaw comes into effect when the region reaches 15 or more COVID cases and remains in effect for 15 days. Due to decreasing cases in Alberta, many municipalities are repealing their bylaws.

Long disagreed with repealing council’s bylaw due to recent Delta variant cases and low vaccination rates in the local area.

“I’d rather see the number changed to 25 [cases] from 15,” he said.

He added over 99 per cent of hospitalizations from COVID were people who did not vaccinate.

“We’re not over,” said Long. “We’re fooling ourselves if we think we are. We should be conservative in our approach.”

However, both Mayor Brian Panasiuk and Councillor Judy Stenhouse wanted the Alberta government to take the lead.

“I think we should be relying on the Province first,” said Panasiuk, adding there would be “chaos” if the Province did not have a bylaw and High Prairie did.

Repeal the bylaw now and bring it back later, if needed, he concluded.

Stenhouse agreed saying she wanted to follow the advice of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“Why would we not follow [the Province’s] guidelines?” she asked.

“Sometimes the government lacks the intestinal fortitude and intelligence to do the right thing,” Long replied.

Long was growing increasingly frustrated.

“Alberta Health Services says let’s not do masks, let’s not do masks. I’m tired of arguing about it.”

Council passed two readings but voted 3-1 in favour of proceeding to third reading with Long opposed.

Councillors Donna Deynaka and Arlen Quartly were absent.

The bylaw is expected to return for third reading at council’s July 27 meeting.

Councillor Brian Gilroy added a final thought before the vote.

“Show respect for those who choose to wear a mask,” he said.

“It’s OK to wear a mask if it makes you feel more comfortable.”

The existing Town of High Prairie bylaw expires Dec. 31 if not repealed by council.

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