RMWB Council met for the first time since Mayor Scott issued a state of Local emergency order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to social distancing guidelines, Mayor and Councillors met via teleconference.
Mayor Don Scott introduced a motion at the start of the March 24th meeting with as many as 17 separate provisions.
He also asked the Councillors to vote to waive the notice of motion.
The first provision called for the Director of Emergency Management and interim CAO to develop a shelter-in-place guideline limiting residents to staying at home unless they seek access to essential services.
Mayor Scott said that Mayor and Councillors must be leaders and not followers in the wake of the pandemic.
“Right now, we’re operating in a vacuum of knowledge: We do not know how many cases are here, so if we act aggressively now, we will bounce back from this in a much stronger position than other regions in Alberta.”
As of publication, the Alberta website records no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region.
Other provisions in Mayor Scott’s motion are as follows:
- Task administration to determine which essential services should remain open
- Ensure only essential employees reside in work camps and adhere to Alberta Health Services guidelines
- Task administration with continuing obtaining protective equipment such as N95 masks for the duration of the emergency
- Ask AHS to immediately disclose the number of COVID-19 cases in Wood Buffalo and the number of those residing in work camps
- Direct all essential businesses operating in Wood Buffalo to comply with AHS guidelines
- Aggressively ensure all people listed in the up-to-date vulnerable person registry receive proper care
- Enforce and impose sanctions for noncompliance to health guidelines, when appropriate.
- Regularly contact rural and Indigenous communities to address the COVID-19 pandemic situation
- Encourage residents to identify people who are alone or in distress
- Defer residential property taxes
- Encourage the province to provide assistance to commercial and residential renters
- Defer residential utility fee payments
- Request the federal and provincial governments to set up a business support program
- Have every person who enters the RMWB by car or air to self-isolate
- Limit transit services and waive fees until further notice
- Task the interim CAO and Director of Emergency Management address issues presented by leaders from the rural communities regarding COVID-19
Scott Davis, Director of Emergency Management, said no single municipality enacted such measures in Canada.
He added discussions continue on determining which services are essential.
“In regards to essential services, we have ongoing plans to identify critical business, and understanding what that means in relations to the Alberta Emergency Management Act.”
Davis said governments in Ontario and Quebec recently enacted similar lockdown or essential services only measures.
Councillor Phil Meagher said he was against waiving the motion, calling the motion unprecedented.
“Last week, we were told that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and this has all the indications of a sprint. This is a 17-point motion. I have never seen anything like this.”
Meagher said the region continues to follow the lead of the provincial government, the chief medical officer of health, and safety guidelines.
He and others had questions about particular points, some of which fall under the province’s jurisdiction.
RMWB Council defeated the vote to waive notice for the motion by a 6-5 margin.
The motion will return to Council under standard procedures on April 14, 2020.
Mayor Don Scott expressed concerns about the date, recalling the fast-moving nature of COVID-19 and Wood Buffalo’s experience with the 2016 wildfire.
“I’m not prepared to sit back, and assume the province is going to look after us in this region when we can just do it ourselves.”
Indigenous and Métis leaders across Wood Buffalo took additional measures to protect their communities.
During the Council meeting, interim CAO Jamie Doyle said the RMWB would close the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road.
This would align with requests from Fort Chipewyan as well as other rural communities to suspend non-essential travel.
The RMWB should release a statement on the closure closer to March 26, 2020.