Peace River will only consider mask bylaw after 30 days of public input

Susan Thompsom
South Peace News

Peace River is seeking public input before deciding whether or not to make masks mandatory through a bylaw in order to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

Both Edmonton and Calgary have already put in place their own mask bylaws. In Edmonton exemption cards were discontinued over concerns they would be abused by people who did not have legitimate medical reasons not to wear them. Grande Prairie is considering a mask bylaw this month. Walmart meanwhile made it mandatory to wear a mask in all of its Canadian stores including in Peace River as of Aug. 12.

Red Deer, Drumheller, Medicine Hat and Airdrie have rejected mask bylaws according to Councillor Colin Needham. Drumheller is instead offering “Dino Bucks” incentives to those who do wear masks.

Peace River town council has not reviewed a mask bylaw yet, but reviewed a briefing on the issue at their regular meeting on Aug 10. The briefing outlines the controversy over masks including the main arguments of those for and against masking. It also includes information from Alberta Health and WHO on mask recommendations, and the Covid-19 Scientific Advisory Group Rapid Response Report.

“I’m of the opinion that we should follow AHS guidelines,” says Deputy Mayor Elaine Manzer.

“I’ll state that the province has decided what to do in K-12 schools with respect to masks and face coverings; maybe the province could become more active to help municipalities. However, being what it is we’re having this discussion, so I agree that we should have a fairly good consultation process. This affects every individual that would be in our town.”

Manzer says some have medical issues and can’t wear masks, and education needs to be done on masks.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where perhaps store owners try to enforce this and then we say to them well, we’re not sure what our back-up enforcement is to help you,” Manzer says. “That aspect needs to be worked out too.”

Downing agrees it’s important to follow AHS guidelines.

“It’s their wheelhouse, they’re the experts,” she says.

“I think this is a prime opportunity for us to enter into some positive health messaging around mask wearing and the value that it brings to our community and our community members with the current information that’s available.”

Councillor Johanna Downing suggests partnering with the Chamber of Commerce to create some positive messaging regarding mask wearing.

“I feel like dragging people on board through a bylaw is probably not in our best interest and at this point the real value is in bringing people to the table thinking that this is what’s best for them and the community in a manner that we can go forward following AHS’s lead,” Downing says.

Orren Ford says any actions on masks should ideally be done regionally and all local municipalities should participate. He says he is not in favour of going forward on a bylaw.

Councillor Don Good says he wears a mask himself but public involvement is necessary before going forward with a bylaw.

“Are we in a crisis situation with covid? Yes we are globally,” says Councillor Colin Needham.

But Needham says his own political supporters are concerned that a bylaw includes enforcement with potential penalties.

“A bylaw basically what you’re saying to people is if you’re not comfortable wearing a mask in Peace River then go shop somewhere else, and I think that’s the wrong strategy.”

Needham thinks strong public messaging emphasizing public health orders is the way to go to encourage people to wear masks.

“I’m not in favour of a bylaw,” Needham says. “We don’t need to regulate this thing.”

“To conclude really what I’m ticked about is why the provincial government dumped this thing on 264 municipalities having the conversation we’re having right now duplicated 264 times. Absolutely ridiculous.”

Good says it’s the divisiveness on the issue that he thinks is the problem, especially defining the motives of those on the other side of the mask debate.

“I know people who are personal friends of mine who will not wear a mask. They are not uncaring people, they are not people who don’t care about their families, they are not people who don’t care about me. They are people who care very deeply for their families and who care very deeply for their community,” Good says.

“And there are people who wear masks who are not living in fear. The fact that I wear a mask does not mean I’m living in fear.”

Good says he moved to Peace River because it was hands down the friendliest community he’d ever seen, he has people on both sides of the debate and people are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have.

“I just hope we find a way to get through this remaining a really strong community of people who care about each other.”

Councillors Johanna Downing and Don Good strongly advocated for speaking with the Chamber of Commerce first, with Downing advocating positive messaging on masks during the 30 day consultation period, ideally with the help of the Chamber.

Mayor Tom Tarpey says the Chamber is welcome to contribute to the consultation, but the Chamber is not the general public and council is not elected by the Chamber so everyone should be able to give input on masks.

Options council may consider after public consultation could include making masks optional but recommended in retail stores, places of worship, and mandatory in public areas of Town Hall, the pool, and Baytex Energy Centre; making a mandatory masking bylaw for all indoor spaces; or encouraging masks through some other means.

Peace River and area residents can complete a survey on masks on the Town website, or send their comments on masks to council.

Share this post