As COVID-19 rises, cities await provincial action to stem the spread


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COVID-19 is on the rise in Alberta, with several record days for new cases in the past week alone.

Provinces including British Columbia and Ontario introduced tougher restrictions this week amid their own growing numbers, and although some are calling on Alberta to do the same, the province has announced no new rule Friday.

Over the summer, with a recommendation but no firm mandate from the province, the Calgary and Edmonton city councils both created bylaws that require masks in indoor spaces accessible to the public. Other municipalities have followed suit, but Alberta is now the only province that does not have a broader provincial mask mandate.

But as Alberta’s two largest cities continue to be hot spots for the novel coronavirus, the powers they have to intervene are limited and, ultimately, they are waiting for the province to make decisions.

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Local state of emergency

Cities can gain additional powers by declaring a state of local emergency, which is used in the event of a disaster such as a major flood, fire, or pandemic. If necessary, two council members – usually the mayor and the councilor who chairs the emergency management committee – sign the declaration.

The city declared a local state of emergency in response to COVID on March 15, and it lasted almost three months – by far the longest in Calgary’s history.

A local state of emergency essentially helps the city respond more quickly to a threat. The head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency has the power to issue orders that can be put in place immediately, rather than having to wait for city council to debate, vote and give direction. Work at the Calgary Emergency Operations Center is also stepping up to ensure city departments are working together.

Tom Sampson, head of the emergency management agency, issued several orders during the first wave of the pandemic, including shutting down libraries and recreation centers in the city and demanding that any international traveler end their trip to Calgary is taking “all reasonable steps” to self-isolate for two weeks.


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