Alberta remains the only province in Canada without a province-wide mandatory mask order, but according to its health minister, it’s actually one of the most “pro-mask” jurisdictions in the country.
During question period Monday, health minister Tyler Shandro was asked by NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley why the province still doesn’t have a mandatory mask mandate, as COVID-19 cases continue to soar at a record pace. There are currently more than 13,000 active cases in the province — the most out of any province or territory in Canada.
The minister said that despite the lack of a formal mandate, Alberta is actually a leader in advocating for mask-wearing.
“We’ve been one of the most pro-mask jurisdictions in Canada,” Shandro said.
Shandro pointed to an initiative, early in the pandemic, to distribute 40 million single-use disposable masks across the province, including 20 million masks to Albertans through drive-thru fast food restaurants.
However, that program was panned by critics, with one editorial calling it a “massive waste of scarce resources that would be better directed elsewhere.” Many Albertans reported receiving dozens of masks from a single restaurant, while other locations ran out almost immediately. Concerns were also raised about accessibility for Albertans unable to drive to a restaurant, as well as UCP member financial connections to the franchises.
We’ve been one of the most pro-mask jurisdictions in Canada.Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro
Still, Shandro defended the province’s approach.
“We were one of the first jurisdictions to recognize how effective masks can be as a tool in responding to the pandemic,” he said. “We continue to encourage Albertans to use masks in any situation where they cannot physically distance.”
Notley pointed out that neighbouring British Columbia introduced a mask mandate on a day where Canada’s third-largest province reported half the number of cases as Alberta. Shandro argued that a province-wide mandate isn’t necessary in Alberta because of several existing municipal mandates.
“The NDP are calling for us to duplicate efforts that many of our municipalities have already done through municipal bylaws,” he said. “We’ll continue to work with them and we’ll continue to make sure that the lives and livelihoods of all Albertans are top of mind.”
Many large municipalities in the province, including Medicine Hat, do not currently have mandatory mask bylaws.
Members of the UCP caucus have come under fire frequently or sowing doubt about widely accepted public health measures, such as mask-usage. In September, Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland UCP MLA Shane Getson said wearing masks was equivalent to “virtue signalling.”
Getson also mocked Edmonton and Calgary for passing mask mandates.
“The same people who typically make up the rules about what to do with your dog poop in the park are now taking it upon themselves to tell you what you should do with your health,” Getson told a town hall in his district.
We were one of the first jurisdictions to recognize how effective masks can be as a tool in responding to the pandemic.Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro
“You know, wear a mask if you think that will help. It’s not going to hurt. Maybe, depending on who you talk to.”
On Monday, Shandro insisted his government takes mask-wearing seriously.
“We understand that masks are an important tool in protecting not just ourselves, but our loved ones, our community and health-care workers,” he said. “We continue to ensure Albertans understand how important masks are as a tool in responding to the pandemic.”
Alberta premier Jason Kenney is expected to announce new restrictions for the province Tuesday afternoon.