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City of Red Deer

City Council Forum Part 3: Vaccine mandates and the Restrictions Exemption Program

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In the closing days of the municipal election campaign Todayville has considered the issues that seem to be emerging as priorities for Red Deer voters.  We’ve taken the opportunity to send questions via email to all the Candidates for Mayor and City Council and we’ve promised we’ll post the responses of those who get back to us.  We are happy to add responses from those who haven’t gotten back to us yet over the weekend, but here is a collection from some of the contenders.
We’re separating the responses into the four questions we asked.  The third question is unique to this election but it is currently one of the hottest issues on the 2021 City of Red Deer Municipal Election Candidate Q&A page on Facebook.  Here’s question 3.

3. If elected, will you be in favour of continuing vaccine mandates through the Restrictions Exemption Program and / or any further programs of this type?

Mayoral Candidates

Buck Buchanan

We as the City have gone back into a SOLE (State of Local Emergency) . This in essence takes the decision making process away from Council and puts it into the hands of Administration in the form of an Emergency Management Team. right now that Team is in touch with the M9 Group which is (9) nine large Municipalities in the province. They are trying to figure out what the Restriction Exemption Program looks like. Do I like what is happening now, No but I think the Team is trying their best to figure out what this Program should look like throughout the Province, and in Red Deer. I very much struggle with the Recreation piece and had a woman advice from Red Deer that it is different in Rimbey, and Sylvan and Innisfail so it needs to be addressed asap with the new Council.

Ken Johnston

Vaccines and vaccinations are the safest way through this current fourth wave which is caused such devastation in our hospital systems. Never did I think in Alberta  I would see all surgeries being cancelled and an outreach to the Army and the Red Cross. The current implementation of the restrictions exemption program allows for the maximum usage and safety by our citizens in our facilities. If we did not implement the current program we would have to revert to 1/3 occupancy, social distancing etc. Many businesses and public institutions have made a similar decision. I grieve that this is such a divisive issue in our community. I take no joy in the prospect of  restricting access in any form. The burden of public office is to try and find a balance between individual rights and the rights of the collective society. This virus does not care who we are or what we believe There are consequences for the choices we make, consequences that have materially impacted our economy, education, health and social systems. Increasing rates of vaccination and promising research on drug therapies for Covid make me optimistic that this program could be lifted by the Province in early 2022

Council Candidates

Bruce Buruma

  • Regrettably COVID and the pandemic have become key questions and issues in this municipal election. Municipalities have limited authority and knowledge over this and that’s the way it should be–municipalities should not be making health decisions. These should be provincial responsibility where there is consistency between communities. We need to focus on issues that City Council can make a difference on.
  • Beyond that, other players drive decision making. In my role with Red Deer Public Schools, insurance providers and legal opinions leave little room for local governments to make decisions. We face loss of insurance or the potential of significant premium increases if we do not follow provincial recommendations and mandates.

Brenda Campbell

I support keeping businesses open and operating and of course helping our health care system manage. That being said, I can’t condone continuing vaccine mandates as right now they make no sense to me. I work at a high school where no such thing exists, understandably. The conundrum is how can large high schools, especially, be allowed to operate freely  without any REP when other public facilities, with smaller populations, are stifled? I’m all for increasing levels of protection against covid but because of the inconsistencies with REP, don’t think it’s working.

Craig Curtis

I support the optional Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) and the related vaccine passport. I do not support the mandatory vaccination of all city employees with the exception of health workers and first responders. The introduction of the REP followed extensive joint lobbying by the Edmonton and Calgary Chambers of Commerce. They called for Provincial action following a survey of businesses which showed 70% of respondents supporting proof of vaccination policies. The Chambers statement reads” business and residents have clearly indicated the need for a standardized framework to ensure consumer confidence and protect worker safety.”

Micheal Dawe

The restrictions to access to facilities were imposed by the Provincial Government and the local Emergency Operations Centre. When considering the options available, the City’s administration decided to follow the restrictions exemption program to allow a level of access while still maintaining safety for those using the facilities. It was not an easy decision, but rather one with which they struggled. It is NOT a perfect solution. However, relaxing the rules on facility use too much will raise concerns from many that there is not enough protection from COVID for those using the facilities.

I should add I am not big on mandates. However, as someone who had a serious bout of COVID earlier this year and is now a “long hauler”, I would not want anyone to go through what I have gone through. Hence, when it comes to vaccines, I would strongly recommend that people get them. While vaccines might not prevent ANY chance of getting COVID, the front line medical people I dealt with, including five specialist physicians with extensive hands-on experience, assured me that the vaccines can reduce the severity of an infection. I literally trusted my life in their hands and skills so I trust the advice they give me.

Victor Doerksen

Those who agree to the Restrictions Exemptions program and the vaccine mandate policy for city staff and volunteers have already defined themselves as segregationists. All of justifications, rationalizations from that point forward are just a matter of degree. Where do you stop? Everyone one of our political leaders, Federal and Provincial recognized early on that vaccine mandates would divide people, and all were opposed. But when things weren’t going the way they promised they
had to find somebody/something to blame, to identify a scapegoat that would allow them to “rationally” change their tune … the unvaccinated became that scapegoat.

I have been clear from day 1 of my campaign that I am opposed to vaccine mandates. It’s not an easy position to take because it has other consequences. We simply cannot allow our society to become divided. For as long as our provincial masters set the rules options are limited. Red Deer businesses will still have to make their own decisions about implementation of the Restrictions Exemptions program. The city will have to move to limit capacity and get creative in finding ways to deliver services to citizens. I’m confident it can be done.

What should concern everyone, regardless of where they land on this issue, is that City Council never voted on either the implementation of the Restrictions Exemption program nor on the policy of vaccine mandates for city staff and volunteers. An issue that affects such a large number of citizens ought to have had the scrutiny of Council. This speaks to the necessity to have a thorough review/overhaul of how the governance model is to work.

Sarah Harksen

No. As a Parent and a Citizen I think its horrible that we would allow segregation to happen in our community. I support those who wish to get vaccinated for their safety and health. I do not a support a passport that disconnects others from the community including not allowing them to utilize the facilities.  We are all tax payers in the community and should be allowed to access services that we pay for. I also think we need to take steps to help stop the spread of covid such as masks, 1/3 capacity  etc. I am okay with wearing a mask if it allows businesses to stay open and people employed. Having to pay 40 dollars everytime we want to see our kids play events is not right or fair. I also think that the City has segregated our children into this equation. We have many kids that are not fully vaccinated my own included who can no longer access the facilities.

Vesna Higham

It’s hard to answer this question without the context of how serious the Covid crisis has become in this 4 th wave, so I’ll begin with some data around that as context for my position on the question.

I typically update this weekly, so apologies for not having updated it yet this week … the numbers are generally trending downward with central zone at 3,180 active cases (Red Deer around 800), with 208 in RD regional hospital and 22 in intensive care. However, in the past 48 hours alone, our Red Deer hospital has lost 7 patients to Covid.
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As of Monday, October 4 th , Red Deer has 904 active Covid cases, down from the record setting high of 915 the Monday prior, which broke the previous pandemic record high back in May 2021 at 911. In the last week alone, our RD hospital transferred 28 patients down to Calgary so they could receive proper treatment since we were beyond capacity in our regional hospital.

As of Monday, there are 20,674 active Covid cases in Alberta – which accounts for almost one-half of the 44,320 active cases in all of Canada. Alberta, with 4.4 million people has almost half of the total active Covid cases in all of Canada (population of 38 million). With 12% of the total population of Canada, we have almost 50% of all active Covid cases.

Our central zone accounts for a severely disproportionate percentage of Alberta’s active cases:
 Edmonton zone: 4,903
 Calgary zone: 4,930
 Central zone: 4,378
 North zone: 4,211
 South zone: 2,224

Calgary zone (with more than 10 times the population) has only 11% more active cases than our Central zone, even though the population ratio suggests it should be significantly higher.  Over the PAST WEEK alone, our Province witnessed the following Covid stats:
 10,430 new active cases
 1,079 currently in hospital
 257 patients in ICU:

the max ICU bed capacity province-wide for decades normally sits at 173 beds, but we’ve had to create an additional 197 surge beds for a total ICU capacity across the province of 370 beds (this includes all surge ICU beds cobbled together from PICU, NICU ICU resources and staff from all other hospital departments to tend to these ICU patients).

 Factoring in the non-Covid ICU patients, our Red Deer ICU capacity is beyond 100% (we’re transferring patients out) and the rest of the Province is at 84 and 87% capacity and growing daily due to the recent steep increase in Covid patients requiring urgent care.
 This week, the military, Red Cross, and health care workers from other provinces have been called in to support our health care system.

Over the PAST WEEK alone:
 Of the 10,430 new active cases, 2,257 cases from Central zone – 22%
 Of the 755 Covid hospital admissions, 186 from Central zone – 25%.
 Of the 83 deaths, 22 from Central zone – 27%
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We are in a health crisis that needs to be urgently addressed because if we don’t, there will be no UCU beds for our children if they get into a car accident or for our parents if they have a stroke, etc. etc.

My husband is a pharmacist whose patient told him that his wife passed away last week from a bladder infection because they couldn’t get her prioritized for care at the hospital. THIS is the real risk and tragedy around the high Covid cases taking up scarce resources in our health care and ICU system.  Hospitals are witnessing more severe cases of Covid sickness, with longer stays per patient because of the Delta variant. ICU patients used to manage on approximately 3 litres of oxygen per person to get through their hospital visit; now patients require an average of 10 litres of oxygen per person to recover.

A lot of people believe that the government is lying or misleading people about the real Covid impacts. I’ve heard people say, “Red Deer’s hospital has always been at capacity, nothing’s different now with Covid.” Or: “Covid’s not responsible for the health-care crisis, it’s the lack of nurses and doctors.” etc. That’s simply not true. Covid is responsible for our current hospital crisis and if we don’t address that reality, our urgent care capacity will collapse at the Red Deer hospital and across the province. Many have described the Covid vaccines as “unproperly tested, experimental DNA-altering serum” and are wary about being injected with what they perceive to be unknown, or worse, harmful recently developed technologies. However, the technology for the mRNA vaccines has been studied for several decades.

Canadian scientist Ian MacLachlan who decades ago worked on the first mRNA technology said this: “Many people believe the mRNA vaccines came out of nowhere, but this technology has been in the works for years. I’ve had conversations with folks that imagine they were developed within the last 12 to 18 months,” he said. “But in reality, very soon after they discovered nucleic acids and their role in biology, people began thinking of ways of using nucleic acids as medicine. The idea of using RNA as a vaccine is something that’s been around for 20 or 30 years.” (https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/how-the-early-work-of-a-canadian-scientist-and-his-team-made-the-covid-19-vaccines-possible-1.5601481)

Please let me be clear: I totally support a person’s right to make medical decisions for their own health and body. However, part of the problem is that a lot of misinformation has been floating around on Facebook and YouTube that causes people to mistrust what has been proven to be very safe, effective vaccines – not necessarily to prevent ever contracting Covid, but to mitigate the harsh, often life-threatening impacts of the Delta variant on even the young and healthy and to prevent our health care system from collapsing.

So, to answer the question posed: I support our right to have a hospital bed to come to if we get into an accident, have cancer, a heart attack, or a stroke. I support not allowing our health care system to collapse under the weight of Covid patient hospitalizations where patients are now sicker and require longer stays and more ICU visits from this new variant than in any of the previous three waves (why hospitalization rates have gone up).  I do support the current Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) to enter City buildings and facilities and if I’m being honest, I would support a mandatory vaccine passport system across our city (province), rather than the optional REP, which places an unnecessary burden on individual businesses to decide.

I DO NOT SUPPORT making it mandatory for ALL citizens in the Province to get a Covid vaccine, however, there are sectors of our public employees who interact with the public in close daily contact (nurses, doctors, paramedics etc.) that should be required to vaccinate due to the risk it places on the rest of society if they don’t.  No one’s fundamental freedoms are being abridged by requiring proof of vaccination for non-essential services. Though it may be an inconvenience, eating at a restaurant, working out in a gym, or playing hockey are not constitutional rights. Going to a movie theatre is not a freedom protected by the Charter.  People are still free to choose not to get vaccinated, but there are – and rightly ought to be –
consequences for that choice, because the consequences to our health care system (which we all rely on to be there for us if we get seriously injured or sick), are dire at the moment – largely because of people’s choices not to vaccinate. Currently 80% of all Covid hospitalizations are non-vaccinated people, because vaccinated people typically don’t get very sick even if they contract Covid.

Furthermore, Covid used to afflict mostly the elderly. Among the 10,430 new active cases in Alberta this past week alone: 6,497 were under 40 years old and 3,951 were over 40. Currently, the hardest hit demographic are the 30-39 year olds – that’s our sobering reality. Finally, I recognize that pandemic response (including related vaccine issues) is top-of-mind for many people in this election – even determinative, vote-deciding for some. However, four years is a long time to have a Councillor in place and many issues will arise during the upcoming term where conservative-minded people will look for a conservative voice on Council – and if that’s you, I ask you to read through my brochure ([email protected]) before making a final decision. If not, no worries either way – Council ought to reflect a broad spectrum of political and community perspectives.

Cindy Jefferies

I support public health measures. Public health is for the benefit of the public -all of us.  I know people who have died of COVID.  I know people who have had life saving surgeries postponed because our hospitals are beyond capacity and completely overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID. As an Albertan, I have been vaccinated for numerous diseases throughout my life. It used to be mandatory before enrolling in public education. In some provinces it still is. As a person who likes to travel, I have been vaccinated for things like yellow fever. Why? Because the country I was travelling to insisted upon it.  It was a requirement of entry to protect people. In this country many people gave their lives for the greater good.  For me, it’s a small sacrifice to take a vaccine that has a very low rate of side effects, to benefit myself, my family, and others in my community, and to help alieviate the pressures on our healthcare system. If I have a heart attack tomorrow, I will depend on science and medicine to try and save me. When it comes to the pandemic I feel the same way, I will trust the science and the medical professionals. The restrictions do not prohibit people who are not vaccinated from accessing essential services.  Unvaccinated people contribute to the greater good by foregoing non-essential activity in the community thereby helping to reduce transmission of the virus. It’s a choice we all get to make.

Ryan Laloge

This is a multipart question with imbedded constrictions and presumptions. Our Provincial Health authority should act for all Albertans with common rules in all communities and not mandates here and there.  All Albertans should be permitted access to business and city facilities unless they are symptomatic or infected, they are real people, living real lives, paying real taxes. The question implies we are being asked to burn witches at the stake (including non-transmitting individuals) while we send our (including my) unvaccinated children to school without this prejudice?

Lawrence Lee

I do support the notion of immunization throughout our community. I am an analyst by nature and the overwhelming science and current number that have been immunized having the lowest chance of adverse health outcomes.  As an elected official there is a duty of care to your community. We are already seeing the positive results of having our seniors immunized – low hospitalization rate. Also, I would like to point out that people would still have access to any facility or business with confirmation of a negative COVID test within the past 72 hours.  I do believe there is a lot of misinformation out there and would encourage understanding and promote education to achieve common ground,

Janise Somer

As a candidate, I am urging voters to put aside their opinions about masks, vaccines & vaccine passports, and vote for the best candidates to represent you for the next 4 years. COVID will hopefully soon be in the rear-view mirror! What if the candidate you are supporting because of their opinion on vaccines votes for a 25% increase in property taxes, or a decrease of 25% that results in cutting services you care about? Or maybe a candidate wants to decrease snow removal services to pay for more bike lanes, or cancel the plan for more bike lanes in favour of increased snow removal? What if the candidate you are supporting because of their opinion on vaccines wants to spend $5 million of your tax dollars on something you don't support? I urge you to research candidates based on city issues that matter to you, not on provincial healthcare issues.

However, to answer your question, I have always supported Provincial Health guidelines. This is because the City of Red Deer does not have a team of doctors and scientists on staff to make these healthcare decisions, so we need to trust the province to make good healthcare decisions for all its municipalities. Have they made perfect decisions? Probably not. But is there a province, state or country that has?!?! This global pandemic and Delta Variant has been challenging for governments around the world.

Dianne Wyntjes

The role in public health orders is new to municipalities as those decisions have previously rested with Provincial and Federal orders of government. Municipalities continue to work their
way thorough these health matters during the pandemic including the mask bylaw, following the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program at municipal sites with vaccination proof or a negative rapid test within 72 hours of entry, and now through City operations, a staff immunization policy.

The questions posed about these programs resonate throughout Alberta and Canada. Do we motivate individuals through incentives, such as what was seen by the Provincial Government, or do we do bring about restrictions that prevent individuals from access to all city facilities? Do we continue to educate and hope individuals do what’s best for the community and to protect our health care system? Do we act upon or do what each of us can do to slowdown and
hopefully prevent the transmission of the virus? We do all of these.

Yes to the current mandate and Restrictions Exemption Program. This mandate is important to me because at this stage of pandemic response, provincially and locally, it is about the care provided throughout the hospitals, and locally at Red Deer Regional Hospital and reducing the spread of the virus. In my view these health decisions are made for the overall public good and measured to the health and science benefits. We all hope the pressures will ease at the hospitals. I support and have appreciation for all the front line medical staff, nurses and doctors and health care teams who have been living beside covid for the last 20 months, along with those medical teams now coming from other provinces to support Alberta ICU capacity and patient care. We must also be cognizant that Hospital care, surgery needs or accidents continue, and that patient care must be available when needed. I worry for all those having surgeries or treatments delayed. I also support the science that the vaccines can reduce the covid illness, and acknowledge the reports that many of the covid cases being admitted to hospital are unvaccinated individuals. This is the first time our generation is living through a pandemic. The restrictions, lack of access to businesses (as determined by the businesses themselves as there is no bylaw) and city facilities (as determined by the City of Red Deer) is the attempt and responsibility to do everything that each of us can to prevent the spread of the
virus and using the tools available to us: masks, social distancing, sanitizing, proper ventilation in buildings, changes and adaptation to work procedures, distancing, staying at home when ill, and vaccinations.  Yes, there is much to adapt to. The goal for me is the collective support for our community to keep us as healthy as we can and to keep the economy moving.

No to any further programs of this type at this time; I cannot commit to a program until I know what it is about.

I recognize the dismay and frustration with the complications of measures taken. City Council and City administration receives messages expressed by Red Deer citizens, who choose not to be vaccinated and through the Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program, are not currently permitted to access Municipal sites, such as Recreation facilities or who do not want to provide a negative rapid test result. It’s to be noted the City of Red Deer Council did not pass a bylaw for all Red Deer businesses/organizations to comply with the Provincial Restrictions Program; it is up to each of the businesses/organizations to set their process. The City of Red Deer, currently under a State of Local Emergency since September 17th, 2021, continues to view, evaluate and adjust as we all live through these challenging times.

 

 

 

 

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City of Red Deer

Council to vote on extending emergency temporary housing at Canery Row for two more years

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Council focuses on long-term solution to housing and homelessness

Following a report on the housing and homelessness crisis Red Deer is facing, Council will take the next steps to implementing a diversion plan and securing a temporary solution while the permanent emergency housing site is being built.

“Our primary goal is to end homelessness in our community, and there are a lot of partners required to make that happen. Today, we directed administration to develop a diversion plan to reduce the overall number of people accessing emergency housing services,” Said Mayor Ken Johnston “We are working closely with the Province to get shovels in the ground next Spring to begin construction of a permanent emergency housing site in our community that will not only provide a shelter for those in need, but the resources to get them to a place where they can be housed permanently.”

The City works in partnership with community and government partners to build and implement a responsive, sustainable and well-performing housing and homelessness response that is informed by evidence-based research and best practice. Since given direction from Council to develop a list of site purchase options for a temporary site, great efforts have been made to try and find an alternative site involving commercial realtors and requests for proposals. The list of sites was narrowed from more than 80 possibilities and it resulted in only one viable property: Cannery Row. These decisions will help the community to prioritize permanent shelter

Among the decisions today, Council approved two key recommendations as a step towards solving the emergency housing crisis in Red Deer:

  • Directed administration to develop a diversion plan to reduce the overall number of people accessing emergency housing services, in alignment with the Community Housing & Homelessness Integrated Plan (CHHIP).
  • Direction to bring forward a Land Use Bylaw Amendment to provide temporary emergency housing service at the Cannery Row site for two years for Council’s consideration within three weeks. A date was set for consideration of First Reading on December 6.

“Although the subject of temporary emergency housing has been very public in our community for more than a year, members of Council will go into the Public Hearing with an open mind, and we hope that members of our community and businesses will do the same,” said Mayor Johnston. “In our experience, when considering any amendments to our Land Use Bylaw, the public hearing process can be both emotionally and mentally draining. We will be hearing both support and opposition with personal and professional experiences, and Council will take every piece of the equation into consideration when making our decision.”

The temporary emergency housing site at Cannery Row is currently able to operate following an Emergency Order put in place following the declaration of the State of Local Emergency (SOLE), which was renewed until February 15. Once the SOLE expires or is rescinded, the ability to operate at Cannery Row will also expire, leaving a gap in services for people experiencing homelessness during the winter months if an amendment to the LUB is not approved.

In 2019, the Provincial government announced $7 million to fund a permanent shelter in Red Deer. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by The City and the Province in November 2020 that outlines mutual intentions for a quality, purpose-built shelter. The location of the permanent site has not been determined.

For background information on the temporary emergency housing site, visit www.reddeer.ca/emergencyhousing.

For more information, please contact:

Corporate Communications
The City of Red Deer

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Alberta

Alberta Ombudsman can’t do anything about City of Red Deer complaint about 9-11 Dispatch

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Ombudsman Responds to Municipalities’ Complaint About Ambulance Dispatch

Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman took the unusual step of publicly commenting on a complaint received involving Alberta Health Services.

The City of Red Deer, along with the municipalities of Calgary, Lethbridge and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo filed a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding Alberta Health Services’ consolidation of ambulance emergency dispatch services.

The Ombudsman Act authorizes the Ombudsman to investigate administrative decisions of government ministries and many related bodies, but the Act specifically prohibits her from investigating decisions of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“My office thoroughly analyzed the complaint and confirmed that the decision to consolidate ambulance dispatch services was indeed made by AHS. While many government-related bodies fall under my jurisdiction, AHS is not one of them,” stated Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s Ombudsman. “In fact, the Ombudsman Act specifically states that my powers of investigation do not apply to health authorities. My ability to investigate AHS decisions would require a change in legislation. While the issue being complained about clearly affects many Albertans, I am bound by my governing legislation to only investigate matters that are clearly within my jurisdiction.”

Investigations by the Ombudsman are conducted in confidence, and it is the Ombudsman’s general practice not to comment publicly on complaints, especially ones that are not being investigated.

“Given the substance of the complaint has been widely reported in the media and that it relates to an issue affecting a great many Albertans, I advised the mayors that I would be making a public statement.”

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