COVID-19 bylaw not an option without province, says Saskatoon mayor

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Saskatoon city council reached the limit of what it can do on its own without the province, said Charlie Clark in an interview about the vote against against a COVID-19 bylaw restricting gatherings in the city. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)
Saskatoon city council reached the limit of what it can do on its own without the province, said Charlie Clark in an interview about the vote against against a COVID-19 bylaw restricting gatherings in the city. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC - image credit)

One day after Saskatoon city council voted against implementing a proposed bylaw that would have limited gathering sizes to fight the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Charlie Clark said Saturday that the council didn't want to do something that would be overturned by the province or create confusion.

Councillors voted in favour of having the city solicitor write the bylaw earlier this week, which was introduced to council on Friday and which was intended to last 28 days.

On Tuesday, however, Saskatoon's mayor was informed by the Minister of Government Relations Don McMorris that the province would not support such a bylaw, according to Clark.

"In September, we heard the premier say that municipalities should work with local municipal health officers and if they need to come up with solutions, then we should do that," said Clark on Saturday.

In September, Regina and Saskatoon were both able to implement mask mandates for city facilities and buses before the province's mask mandate was reimplemented on Sept. 17.

The same month, the province also said in a statement that municipalities could create their own policies in regard to proof of vaccination, but only where they have jurisdiction, meaning not for private businesses.

Proposed bylaw mostly impacted unvaccinated

On Oct. 1, Saskatoon had first asked the government in a letter for city-specific gathering limits, but the province told the city that no further limits on gatherings were being considered at the time.

"We wanted to do everything we could to try and mitigate this health care crisis that we're in right now and to follow the advice of the medical health officers," said Clark on Saturday.

The bylaw would have particularly affected unvaccinated or partly vaccinated people by prohibiting private gatherings outside of their own households. Vaccinated people would have only been allowed to get together with one other fully vaccinated household, to a maximum of ten people.

In addition the bylaw would have also reduced gathering sizes for funerals, weddings and churches to 25 per cent of the building's capacity (or a maximum of 150 people for churches) if the event was not requiring proof of vaccination.

Proceeding without province a no-go

Going ahead and still implementing the bylaw — even without the blessing of the province — was not an option for Clark because it would have added more confusion for people in Saskatoon, he said.

"I didn't feel like I could in good conscience with that information from the minister go ahead, do the work to try and implement the bylaw, and knowing that the province would undo it," said the mayor.

The majority of councillors — 10-1 — voted against the bylaw on Friday afternoon, including Coun. Randy Donauer.

"I think we're beyond our scope of authority here, despite what the perceived emergency or the real emergency is in our community," said the Ward 5 councillor.

The only councillor voting in favour to move ahead with the bylaw was Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough.

'This isn't a political game'

Implementing a bylaw that would be difficult to enforce wouldn't help to address the current health-care crisis in Saskatoon, said Clark.

Now the mayor wants to redouble his efforts to work with the province to advocate for the right public health measures, he said.

"This isn't a political game we're trying to play," said Clark. "We needed to try everything we could as a city and we reached the limit of what we can do on our own."

In addition the city will continue to communicate with the public what the COVID-19 modelling shows and why everybody's actions matter right now to get ICU numbers down to a sustainable level, according to Clark.

"I've told the province I'm concerned that if we don't take those steps [to limit gathering sizes], we prolong this crisis," said the mayor.

"So my plea is, please work with and bring back together the coordinated effort between the province and the medical health officers to try and take these steps, and I'm going to continue to make that plea."

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