Editor’s note: This story originally stated eight Edmonton-area mayors had signed the letter, but there were in fact 12 signatures. This story has been updated to reflect Alanna Hnatiw, Tanni Doblank, Rod Frank and Robert Young were also among the signees.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, Beaumont Mayor John Stewart, St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec, Spruce Grove Mayor Stuart Houston, Stony Plain Mayor William Choy, Devon Mayor Ray Ralph and Morinville Mayor Barry Turner, Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw, Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank, Leduc County Mayor Tanni Doblanko, and City of Leduc Mayor Robert Young signed their names to the open letter.
“Our region’s municipalities are experiencing the highest infection multiplier in the province,” the letter reads. “Together, we have the most citizens currently in hospital and intensive care.”
There are a number of things the mayors are calling for, but one of the major ones is consistency in plans and measures across the province.
“A yo-yo diet doesn’t work, so a yo-yo COVID-19 response doesn’t work either,” Choy said. “We need to be clear and concise and have a long-term vision to beat it and get back to as close to normal as we can.”
As of Friday, the most recent day the province provided COVID-19 statistics, there were 168 people in hospital with the novel coronavirus in the Edmonton zone. Of that figure, 45 people were in the ICU.
On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney and Shandro announced a province-wide mask mandate would be put into effect across the province, licensed establishments would not be able to serve liquor past 10 p.m. and an incentive program to get those who haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine to receive their first or second dose, but no other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The incentive program would see those who get their first or second dose be able to apply for a $100 debit card, an amount that Edmonton emergency room doctor Dr. Shazma Mithani doesn’t think is going to be enough.
“I think preventing these people from doing the things that they enjoy will likely have a much stronger effect on pushing them to get vaccinated.”
She supports the idea of a vaccine passport, and it’s something the mayors call for in their letter and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce is calling for too.
The chamber says a vaccine passport is urgently needed to keep the economy open and prevent further lockdowns.
Ernie Tsu, owner of Calgary’s Trolley 5 brew pub, says he supports a vaccine passport if it will enable the hospitality industry to operate without restrictions.
“Everyone is frustrated and extremely angry,” Tsu said. “On a personal level, I would be in favour of it, if it meant restaurants could operate without restrictions.”
On Tuesday, Edmonton’s Arcadia Brewing Co. announced it will begin requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test from its customers later this month. It joins a handful of other bars and restaurants — including Edmonton’s Fleisch Delikatessen and Calgary establishments Dickens Pub and The Palomino Smokehouse — that have recently done the same.
Arcadia owner Darren McGeown said the decision “had to be made” in light of what he called the United Conservative government’s lack of action.
“It doesn’t look like they’re going to be making the right decision to move forward with this, even though every other province is doing it,” McGeown said, adding he is concerned about rising hospitalizations as well as the possibility that businesses could face another lockdown if case counts continue to surge.
“It’s not the easiest decision to make, business-wise, but it’s the right thing to do,” McGeown said. “It’s the only way to move forward.”
However, Jonathan Alward, prairies director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said not all business owners feel that way. He said a survey of CFIB members in August indicated only about 40 per cent of Alberta-based respondents support a vaccine passport, even when weighed against the possibility of another lockdown.
“There’s a lot of valid reasons why business owners would have reservations,” Alward said. “There’s a lot of grey area about requiring mandatory vaccinations of staff, for example … If you’re a restaurant, you just can’t ask your staff to work from home.”
Businesses also have practical concerns around the administration and policing of such a program. And some fear harassment or pushback from the public, Alward said.
“What we’ve heard from some of our members in places where this has already happened is that your staff ends up taking undue punishment from some customers,” he said.
“So I think it’s right that any province looking at doing this — whether you’re talking about the government of Alberta or elsewhere — really make sure that they’re doing it as a last resort.”
Quebec, B.C., Ontario and Manitoba will all require proof of vaccination to access restaurants, bars and sports events.
“At the very least, the government should be looking at vaccine passports now,” Dr. James Talbot, the former chief medical officer of health for Alberta, said.
“You want to get the message out to the people who haven’t been immunized that with the right to refuse the vaccine comes the responsibility to not contribute to the crashing of the health-care system. You also want to get the message out to the people who are immunized that they did the right thing.”
Alberta government resisting vaccine passport system even as businesses demand it
Alberta’s United Conservative government has so far declined to bring in a vaccine passport. The province leads the country in COVID-19 cases and only 70 per cent of eligible Albertans are fully vaccinated.
“With the lotto and now the $100 gift cards, I don’t think there was a huge uptake,” Choy said. “We need to have a more consistent approach across Canada.”
Global News has reached out to the government for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.
– with files from the Canadian Press
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