Wheatland County council is considering sending a letter to provincial representatives and municipalities requesting provincewide COVID-19 public health restrictions be lifted.
During its regular meeting on Feb. 6, Wheatland council voted 5-2 in favour of a motion directing administration to draft a letter protesting COVID-19 public health restrictions, with Reeve Amber Link and Councillor Glenn Koester voting in opposition.
The motion was proposed by Councillor Tom Ikert.
“I am becoming very distressed about the amount of not only economic damage, but the amount of mental health damage that’s being done with this shutdown,” he said, during the meeting. “We’ve got to get people out, (and) we’ve got to quit treating this like it’s the end of the world.”
Ikert said once the letter is drafted, it should be sent to Premier Jason Kenney and local MLAs, with council’s approval.
Councillor Jason Wilson said in addition to these provincial officials, the letter should be sent to all municipalities in Alberta.
“It’s not just a provincial issue,” he said. “We’re facing federal restrictions as well that are very hindering – hindering our industry that crosses borders (and) deals with airlines.”
Provincewide shutdowns have pitted rural and urban areas against each other, said Councillor Scott Klassen.
“(COVID-19) does hit the large centres,” he said. “Our urban partners are afraid, and they have the numbers to support that, but we don’t (in) rural Alberta.”
Councillor Donna Biggar said she supports a more regional approach to restrictions.
“That way, maybe the government can actually concentrate on those areas (and) why those numbers are going up (there),” she said.
Councillor Ben Armstrong said he and many others in the community have been not following restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic. Wilson said he too has at times engaged in social gatherings, against the restrictions.
“A person’s greatest strength against anything is their refusal to follow the rules – that shows the most discontent,” he said.
But this view was not unanimous among council.
“I don’t like that nobody can come to my house,” said Councillor Glenn Koester. “But we follow the rules here, and my kids follow the rules.”
Wilson said more seniors are experiencing reduced quality of life because of restrictions than are being affected by the virus directly.
“My question to policymakers is, when are you going to start asking seniors what they want? You can assume they want to sit in a room with food being passed through a little hole, like in a jail, or they can risk living, to have a life, to see their family, and be part of society,” he said. “I think that quality of life far outweighs any risk of this disease.”
But Koester said the threat of COVID-19 to seniors’ health is undeniable, with resultant deaths in such places as Wheatland Lodge and AgeCare Sagewood. Unlike the province, which has physicians, mathematicians and other professionals on staff, Wheatland County only has their feelings on the matter, he said.
“What’s our expertise?” Koester asked, adding that easing restrictions now could result in a larger cost later, especially with the uncertainty of newly identified variants of the virus in the province. “I don’t like (restrictions), but opening and closing back and forth is not the answer either.”
On March 2, council will debate the drafted letter and vote on whether it be sent.
Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times