December 9, 2023

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Clarity expected today on health-measures legislation

The Province is expected to give clarity this afternoon around proposed changes to the Municipal Government Act that would prevent municipalities in part from enacting their own COVID restrictions. Read more below and watch for further coverage following the Provincial press conference this afternoon.

Municipalities are expected to get further clarity this afternoon on the UCP government’s plans to amend the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to stop cities, towns and counties from passing bylaws contrary to provincial health policies.

A media briefing with Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver and department officials is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 8.

Joined by Gary Sandberg, assistant deputy minister of Municipal Services Division and Andrew Horton, executive director of Municipal Policy and Engagement, McIver is expected to talk “about changes to legislation that will bring more certainty and clarity to public health rules in Alberta municipalities.”

Premier Jason Kenney said last week that the government will be introducing amendments to the MGA to restrict the ability of municipalities to pass bylaws that contradict public health polices and rules enacted by the province, including related to COVID-19.

“Having municipalities improvise their own policies when it is not really their area of primary responsibility is, I think, unhelpful and divisive,” said Kenney. “I am concerned that if municipalities have this power it will increasingly become a political and not a public health issue, which will generate public cynicism.

“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.

“We are concerned that a patchwork of separate policies across the province could just lead to greater division, confusion, enforcement difficulty with no compelling public health rationale. We need clarity, consistency and unity.”

Cathy Heron, the president of Alberta Municipalities, called the government plans to amend the MGA “an unfortunate turn of events” and something that should be reconsidered.

“The government of Alberta’s intended course of action – amending the MGA – was never formally discussed with us,” said Heron. “No conversation, consultation, or collaboration occurred between the provincial government and Alberta Municipalities on this important topic. 

“Alberta Municipalities finds the provincial government’s top-down approach to be heavy-handed and unnecessary. It seems like a short-term political calculation that could influence long-term governance decisions at the municipal level.”

She said there are concerns that the government plans may set a “dangerous precedent” if they proceed.

“If the provincial government can amend the MGA whenever a local government disagrees with it or wishes to take a different approach, then municipalities will have lost some of their autonomy and some of their freedom to decide and act locally in the best interests of their residents and businesses,” she said.  

Joe Ceci, NDP critic for Municipal Affairs, calls the decision to amend the MGA a mistake.

“It’s a unilateral move by the premier to step all over municipalities and their legal rights to do what they want for their taxpayers, for their residents and their constituents,” said Ceci. 

“I think that’s wrong and a lot more respect and local involvement and dialogue has to be taken with local governments. This kind of action is unilateral and it just continues to show that people at local government can’t trust Jason Kenney to do what’s in their best interest because he will change his mind repeatedly.

“A couple years ago the premier leaned on municipalities to bring in masking bylaws throughout the province because he didn’t want to do it. Now he’s saying they can’t continue masking and other public health measures because he doesn’t want them to do it. It is yet again what we see from the UCP and Jason Kenney, doing what they want and being inconsistent and the rest of municipalities and local governments just have to live with it.”

In a press release, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said the proposed amendments to the MGA will “create clarity and certainty for Albertans when it comes to public health policy after almost two years of changing guidelines. We are confident now it is the right time for everyone in the province to follow the same rules to avoid confusion and frustration.”

The MGA is the provincial legislation that governs municipalities, including towns and counties.