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Debate heated over COVID-19 Pandemic Response Motion

Last Updated Mar 28, 2020 at 2:50 am MDT

PHOTO. Jubilee Centre. Sarah Anderson. REPORTER.

RMWB Council met on Friday, March 27, for a more than five-hour special meeting to address COVID-19 preparations.

Mayor and Councillors met to discuss the motion Mayor Don Scott introduced on March 24 calling for extensive safety measures.

As of publication, there are four cases of COVID-19 in the urban service area of Fort McMurray.

“We’ve been watching this unfold across the world, the country, the province and now, our own region.” Said Mayor Don Scott. “I know we are well prepared, and we are working together to put us in the best possible position to limit the impact as this evolves on a daily basis.”

Mayor Scott said the focus would guide the Municipality alongside provincial and health guidelines.

The motion included 17 separate provisions found here.

Mayor Scott disclosed his office had recent conversation’s with the Premier’s Office.

Alberta addressed several provisions included in the original motion, so Mayor Scott withdrew seven of the 17 provisions.

The most debate centred on the first provision.

This called on the administration to develop a ‘shelter-in-place’ order for residents.

Councillors and delegates expressed concerns about this provision as many in Wood Buffalo follow the instruction of the province and AHS.

Councillors Meagher and Murphy were against the provision arguing the Municipality should trust the health professionals.

They said it was unclear and, if approved, would confuse residents, in particular those struggling with mental health.

Likening the motion to a sprint rather than a marathon, Meagher added residents had plenty to say.

“I haven’t received as many calls, emails, and texts that I have on a subject in a long time as this one, and I think that everybody is feeling that we’re going at light speed.”

Meagher later claimed of the 21 calls he received, 18 were from residents against the provision.

Several delegates spoke about the vagueness of the ‘shelter-in-place’ order and limits to outdoor activity.

Delegates Ron Pelletier and Doug Doyle said residents need the outdoors for physical exercise and mental health.

Pelletier added some rely on the outdoors on hunting, fishing, trapping.

They said most follow recommendations from the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr Denna Hinshaw.

Another delegate recounted how she heard from social media her office shared a building with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

When Colleen Tatum learned from Maxx Dental about it on social media, she entered self-isolation.

Tatum requested the Municipality improve its communications with the province and AHS, and investigate cases of community transmission.

Pelletier, Doyle, and Tatum argued the provision would penalize all residents.

Councillor Murphy also shared that concern.

During the debate, she disclosed she and her daughter entered self-isolation due to potential health risks from COVID-19 in the area.

Councillor Mike Allen requested Council add a friendly amendment to the first provision changing it to a voluntary ‘stay-at-home’ guideline.

Allen said the motion spreads the awareness from the province in a local context.

Several councillors said they would trust the health experts and could not support the provision.

RMWB Council did approve the remaining provisions relating to COVID-19 response.

Regional Director of Emergency Management, Scott Davis, and Interim CAO Jamie Doyle would lead the administration in the following:

  • That we direct all essential businesses that remain open that they must comply with AHS guidelines;
  • Aggressively communicate the Vulnerable Person Registry in the region and ensure it is updated to ensure those requiring assistance receive it;
  • Set up regular calls with our rural and indigenous communities to determine what is needed on a go-forward basis to address the pandemic and that we include elected leadership to [lead] discussions and include rural Councillors;
  • Encourage the residents of Wood Buffalo to stay connected through technology and identify individuals who are alone, in distress or may need assistance;
  • That administration come forward with a recommendation specific to deferring residential property taxes and small to medium-sized business property taxes;
  • Encourage the provincial government to look at measures that will assist commercial renters;
  • Request the federal and provincial governments to set up an aggressive and robust program to support businesses and social profits including non-profits and charities;
  • That the Interim CAO and the DEM address those matters raised by the leadership of the indigenous and rural communities to address the pandemic in an expeditious manner.”


Doyle, Davis, and acting Mayor Jeff Peddle extended the state of local emergency (SOLE) for another seven days.

Mayor Don Scott and Deputy Mayor Krista Balsom were unavailable to sign off on the renewal.

According to the Emergency Management Act, the RMWB had to renew by March 28 at 4:00 p.m.

Mayor Scott thanked Wood Buffalo residents for contributing to the discussion at the special Council meeting.

“I [would] like to thank all of the residents that took the time to share their views with Council this evening – it is greatly appreciated.”

The next scheduled RMWB Council meeting is April 14, 2020.