Edmonton city council to decide on future of mask mandate Friday afternoon, rule could end July 1 in line with the province

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City council’s debate to end Edmonton’s mandatory mask bylaw as of July 1 will pick up again Friday afternoon with a final vote scheduled.

If the vote passes, masks will no longer be required in most Edmonton indoor public spaces such as retail stores, entertainment venues, restaurants and recreation centres in line with the repeal of the provincial mandate. Face coverings will still be required on the city’s transit system and in vehicle-for-hire services, such as taxis or Uber, through a province-wide directive from chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

The first two readings of the bylaw amendment to end the masking requirement passed by a narrow 7-6 vote Tuesday afternoon. But a no vote from Coun. Aaron Paquette to proceed with the third reading postponed the final decision to a future council meeting. This was initially scheduled for July 5 but council opted to schedule a special council meeting for Friday so the decision can be made before July 1, when the third stage of the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan is set to begin.

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If one or more councillors in favour of ending the mandate flips their vote, another way forward would have to be determined by council. For the councillors opposed to suspending the rule, they prefer an option to end the bylaw two weeks after 50 per cent of eligible residents in the Edmonton Zone are fully vaccinated. Currently, the zone sits just under 30 per cent and is projected to reach the target by mid-July.

As it currently stands, the mask rule is in effect until the end of the year. Council first passed the mask bylaw last August after the province left the authority up to individual municipalities without enforcing a province-wide rule. This changed in December with the provincial mandate but many municipalities already had their own rules in place.

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After the first day of council’s votes to end the bylaw, many residents took to social media calling on councillors to reconsider and keep the bylaw in place for a while longer. In a Thursday letter, Old Strathcona Business Association executive director Cherie Klassen called on councillors to keep the rule in place to better support businesses and allow more time for residents to be fully vaccinated. Klassen said business owners feel less pressure to mandate face coverings on their own and customers feel more safe when the bylaw is in place.

“Businesses expressed their clientele feel much safer when the bylaw is in place and that business owners and staff feel less pressure to mandate face coverings. The city’s support has allowed our members to avoid conflict with those who did not wish to comply,” Klassen said in her letter. “A removal of the bylaw would force many of our business owners, who may wish to keep a mask requirement in place, to do so on their own without the backing of a mandatory owner.”

Most of the surrounding municipalities in the Edmonton region will be ending their mandates in line with the province on Canada Day, including St. Albert, Strathcona County, Leduc and Fort Saskatchewan. Spruce Grove city council is scheduled to debate a bylaw amendment June 28.

More to come.

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3 

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