The Saskatchewan government is responding to criticism that it blocked local efforts by Saskatoon City Council to introduce more measures to dull the impact of the fourth wave of COVID-19.
“The city of Saskatoon wanted to relocate to an area that is not their jurisdiction. They knew it,” Don McMorris, the county’s government secretary of state, told the legislature Monday.
“[Cities] have to acknowledge that we are dealing with this in a bigger picture with the province, “Health Minister Paul Merriman echoed in a scrum with journalists.
On Friday, Saskatoon City Council members debated a temporary bylaw that would have banned private gatherings for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Saskatoon residents outside their own household.
The law would also have reduced assembly sizes for weddings, funerals and churches to 25 percent of the building’s capacity, without indoor dining (or a maximum of 150 people for churches) if the event did not require proof of vaccination.
During the meeting, Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said the Saskatchewan government had already indicated three days earlier that it would not support “municipalities implementing statutes based on advice from local doctors, as Clark described it.
Councilors then voted down the second reading of the bylaws by a 10-1 vote, with only Section 2 City Councilman Hilary Gough voting in favor of the measure. Councilors had become more evenly distributed before Clark spoke of the province’s position.
In a statement after the meeting, Clark criticized the province for sending mixed messages about what cities could do during the pandemic. He pointed to remarks made earlier by Prime Minister Scott Moe and Merriman in the fourth wave, urging municipalities to look at further steps to combat COVID-19.
Clark quoted Merriman’s remark on Oct. 14 that “if municipalities want to be able to add on top of that, they have the ability to do so.”
Clark added that he was disappointed with the province’s decision Friday “to limit our ability to act.”
‘Knew what the answer would be’
Matt Love with the opposition Saskatchewan NDP brought the episode up in the Legislative Assembly on Monday. Laws accused the province of sowing chaos and asked Merriman to respond.
McMorris rose in place of the Secretary of Health.
“The city of Saskatoon knew what the answer would be,” McMorris said. “And I think that is reflected in their vote.”
McMorris said the county had been clear to Clark about what powers the city of Saskatoon has and does not have.
He said the Saskatchewan government has supported cities in adopting rules that fall within their powers, such as limiting the number of people who can gather in city-owned facilities.
“The only reason they voted the proposal down was because you intervened and told them you would not let them do it,” Love said.
When asked about the Love-McMorris exchange in his scrum with reporters, Merriman said he thought McMorris had been ready.
“The city of Saskatoon has a kind of path to what it has authority over. And if they wanted, they could implement stricter restrictions within the city’s facilities. They could easily do that. And that’s what I was talking about. [before]. “