Calgary city council candidates back mask bylaw, vaccine mandate

A coalition of city council hopefuls are getting behind a mayoral candidate’s plan to respond to escalating COVID-19 numbers.

But Calgary city council could update their pandemic response before Calgarians select a new mayor and council on Oct. 18.

The plan championed by mayoral candidate Jan Damery would reinstate a mask bylaw in all indoor public spaces in the city, including gyms, restaurants and bars. Fully vaccinated individuals would be exempt from wearing masks indoors.

Read more: ‘Legally defensible’: Calgary councillors join call to enact public health measures

“If the province won’t act, I will,” Damery said in a statement. “Right now, we need to secure our recovery and prevent another lockdown. That means taking decisive action to increase vaccine uptake and protect people from the fourth wave without closing businesses.”

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Damery underscored the importance of more public health measures as children who are ineligible to be vaccinated return to school in the coming days.

“We know that school transmission will be reduced if we reduce community transmission, and there are things that we can do that we know in these previous three waves of COVID that actually work,” Damery said.

Damery was joined outside Calgary City Hall Monday morning by ward candidates Kourtney Branagan, Lori Masse, Marilyn North Peigan, Erin Waite and Courtney Walcott, who all endorsed Damery’s plan.

Perennial fringe mayoral candidate Larry Heather could be heard shouting anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric using a megaphone from a nearby sidewalk.

Read more: Anger over pandemic election rises as some Canadians feel unsafe voting in person: poll

A former manager of a non-profit disability services organization, Ward 7 candidate Erin Waite, spoke to the constant disruption of work done by the social services sector.

“The importance of the consistency of message and clear messages, and not on-again off-again measures is absolutely crucial to keep Calgarians safe as employees so they can go to work and to provide services to any customer- or client-facing role,” Waite said.

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Ward 8 candidate Courtney Walcott, a high school teacher by trade, said the pandemic has directly affected children and teens in the city and province.

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“It’s when community transition was at its highest when we had to end up going into lockdown at the school level, when our systems fell apart,” Walcott said. “And that’s what truly impacted our children.

“I, personally, have taught through three separate lockdowns at our schools and we don’t need to have them if the rest of us will do our job.”

Damery also took aim at sitting councillors, saying they are complicit with the provincial government in their inaction.

“This is creating huge uncertainty for our citizens and lots of fear. And fear impacts the ability to stay open and to recover our economy.”

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Putting the pandemic on the agenda

Early Monday afternoon, Ward 3 councillor and mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek tweeted she has requested that the city’s pandemic response of late be added to a Sep. 7 meeting of the city’s priorities and finance committee.

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“If we can’t get a special meeting, this might work instead,” Gondek wrote.

Any decision from that committee meeting could go in front of a full meeting of council on Sep. 13 — the final meeting of their term.

Gondek, outgoing Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell, and Ward 9 incumbent Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra have all taken to social media in the past month, calling for the city’s mask bylaw to be reinstated.

On Friday, outgoing Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating joined a growing group of existing councillors calling for a special meeting of council to receive an update on COVID-19 numbers in the city and to explore further public health measures like a mask bylaw or vaccine mandate for city employees.

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Ward 5 councillor and federal candidate in Calgary Skyview George Chahal, who voted to keep the city’s mask bylaw in place during the July 5 city council meeting, expressed his disagreement with the provincial response when hospitalizations and case numbers are increasing.

“Albertans deserve leaders who will fight for them, and not run away when times are tough,” Chahal tweeted.

Read more: AHS transferring patients out of Grande Prairie hospital to free space for COVID-19 care

As of Aug. 27, the City of Calgary had 2,112 active COVID-19 cases and the broader AHS Calgary zone had 2,838 active cases. Only the City of Edmonton and Edmonton zone had more cases.

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In the Calgary zone, 101 people were hospitalized as of Aug. 27, with 20 in intensive care.

And according to data from AHS, only 65.2 per cent of all Calgarians have been fully vaccinated.

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