2020 Junior Forest Rangers program wraps up

Submitted Photo
Junior Forest Rangers Jordon Mcrury, Julia Armon, Liam Grier, Celani Mhlanga, Julianne Baleja, Ryan Auger, Zackary Dakin, Joshua Harper and Natalie Forsyth have a little fun atop a mountain near Mystery Lake. The crew was busy helping with a number of projects in the Hinton area this summer. Read more on Page 9.

Masha Scheele

The Hinton Junior Forest Ranger (JFR) Crew planted, chopped, chainsawed, toured, and worked their way through the summer in the hills surrounding Hinton.

Eight members returned for their second year on the Hinton JFR Crew this year, with two leaders to guide them through their daily work and activities.

“We were really impressed by the youths spirit and attitude despite the additional procedures and restrictions due to COVID,” said Caroline Charbonneau, Hinton’s JFR area coordinator and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) area information coordinator.

The crew came together to find innovative ways to make things work, she added.

Despite many local companies, organizations, and stakeholders not being able to participate this year due to COVID-19, the program leaders were thankful to those that were able to participate with the JFRs, giving them meaningful and educational work despite having to work within the guidelines of COVID-19. 

Many adjustments were made in order to run a successful program under the impacts of COVID-19, according to Trevor Nichols, program specialist at JFR.

“We closely followed the chief medical officer of health’s guidance. We were entrusted by parents and guardians across the province to make sure their son/daughter was looked after, and we took that very seriously,” stated Nichols.

JFR program staff worked closely with other Wildfire staff to come up with a plan they believed kept the crew leaders and members safe, while still being able to take part in a wide range of work projects.

Due to the pandemic, application numbers were lower than typical years and leaders were not able to plan a larger number of projects with partners that have worked with the program every previous summer.

“Our leaders needed to dig deeper in order to find local companies and organizations that were willing to work with us in such a difficult year,” Nichols said.

Crews were not able to do everything they would normally do, but made the most of what was available. For seven weeks the crew was busy with numerous projects from which they learned about the outdoors and created a better recreation experience for others.

They planted trees in the Cache Percotte Forest, cleared trails and took a horseback trip in Willmore Wilderness Park, toured the West Fraser Mill, airtanker base, and other wildfire facilities, removed invasive plants in Hinton’s Interpretive Park, removed posts and barbed wire for the healthy growth of the elk population in the Athabasca Public Land Use Zone, maintained trails at the Kinky Lake in Wildhorse Lake Provincial Recreation Area and Rock Lake Provincial Park, helped with fire prevention by laying gravel around 18 fire pits at two random camping areas in the Brule and Athabasca Public Land Use Zone, and spent an afternoon learning about indigenous culture with the Hinton Friendship Centre.

The JFR program is for youth ages 16 to 18 and they can only participate in the program for two years.

Hinton’s entire crew was made up of 2nd year members.

“It is hard to fully appreciate the impact the JFR program can have on both our crew members and leaders without going through the program yourself,” Nichols said.

Crew members are dropped off at a location that may be completely new to them, with a group of people they have never met, ready to spend the next seven weeks with them.

“Most arrive like a deer in headlights, but it doesn’t take them long to become a family,” Nichols added.

Crew members are taught how to cook in the bush, do laundry, experience a sense of freedom, learn to look after their own money, and develop social skills in a completely new environment.

On top of that, they learn many skills through the various work projects, like bushcraft and survival skills, hand and power tool training, chainsaw certification, ATV certification, leadership skills, radio certification, and pump and hose practice with wildfire crews.

Through meeting professionals, they get a peek at many different career opportunities in forestry, wildlife, ecology, and other areas of natural resource management.

Submitted photo. Julianne Baleja, of Edson, was the only Junior Forest Warden crew member from the Yellowhead Region in 2020.

“These youth are away from home, from friends and family, for almost the entire summer. It is not an easy thing to do but the growth you see from start to finish is incredible,” Nichols said.

The crew also participates in their fair share of fun activities like an indigenous culture camp where they do a sweat, make moose callers, catch and smoke fish, elder knowledge sharing, and craft making. They learn about pilots while riding in a helicopter, and experience a mock wildfire to see how wildfire crews operate.

“The truth is, every student takes away something different. Some are drawn to different aspects of the program and find a career they will love. Some gain incredible leadership skills and others improve on their social skills. This program is inspiring, challenging, and incredibly impactful on everyone involved during the summer,” Nichols said.

The program is designed to give youth valuable skills and is therefore based on four curriculum elements, including stewardship, leadership, partnership, and traditional ecological knowledge.

The training they receive is meant to give them experience and confidence in their future employment.

Charbonneau added that since Hinton’s crew are all second year members, an important focus was to introduce them to various industries and government departments.

“They’re here because they showed an interest in forestry, natural resources, or ecology and we want to make sure they are aware of the many career avenues that are possible. Whether that’s being a forest officer with Agriculture and Forestry, a forester with forest industry or a biologist consultant with oil and gas. We hope that at the end of the season, it helps them make better post secondary and career choices,” Charbonneau said.

Provincially, there were seven crews in Rocky Mountain House, Calgary, Peace River, Fort McMurray, Lac La Biche, Fox Creek, and Hinton.

Applications for youth to join the JFR crew will be accepted between February 1 and April 1 in 2021, according to their website.

Youth can earn up to ten high school credits through the JFR program and get paid for the work they do.

There is no cost associated with applying to be a member or living on the base as this is a summer job. Youth are able to leave the base on the August long weekend during their seven week program.

The crew will need the appropriate gear, and an equipment list is available to the website.

For more information, head to alis.alberta.ca/junior-forest-rangers/

Coal industry calls for support of thermal coal

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

An executive with the company that owns Coalspur Mine Ltd. called for public support of thermal coal and the local Vista Coal project expansion before the feedback process closes Aug. 28.

Edward Griffith, vice president of human resources at Vista Energy Resources, said that support is needed in response to a federal strategic assessment of thermal coal.

“A strategic assessment could be detrimental to the industry possibly and that’s hopefully what we’re trying to avoid with our partners and vendor partners and indigenous groups and so forth,” Griffith told a group of Hinton Rotary members at its Aug. 26 meeting.

He added that the community as a whole should be considered and how heavy-handed policies by the government are detrimental to a community like Hinton.

As other coal mining companies are letting their employees go, it impacts the community and its growth, he said.

He mentioned that the Vista mine workforce was disappointed they have not been heard by the impact assessment agency in this process.

A letter from Vista Energy Resources has also been circulating online calling on those in favour of the Canadian thermal coal industry and the jobs and prosperity it brings to the local and national economy and the welfare of indigenous and minority communities. The letter stated that this indicates the government’s negative view towards thermal coal mining. Individuals were asked to write emails or letters in support of the Vista mine to the ministers office.

Separately from the strategic assessment of thermal coal, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change recently designated the Vista mine expansion project for federal review.

The Impact Assessment Agency found that the Vista mine project, just east of Hinton, did not trigger the Impact Assessment Act, and while the minister initially decided against designating the Vista mine, he recently went back on that decision.

The minister noted in December that adverse effects would be addressed through provincial processes.

A federal review could delay the construction and expansion of this mine by six to nine years.

“This would adversely affect not just Vista but it would adversely affect the growth or expansion of any thermal project within Canada,” Griffith said at the meeting.

He added that the federal government could require a review of the mine every five years, which makes it difficult to attract investors.

Global use of thermal coal will likely increase instead of decrease, and Canada provides the most environmentally sound and safest coal in the world, Griffith noted.

Phase II and the underground expansion of Phase I at the Vista mine bring the total infrastructure investment to over $1.1 billion, of which nearly 70 per cent is spent with Canadian companies, according to Robin Campbell, President of the Coal Association of Canada.

Vista Mine has over 300 full time employees, and the underground mine project with the phase II expansion would add 370 full time jobs, Campbell said.

Cline Group owns Coalspur Mine Ltd, or locally known Bighorn Mining, who began shipping thermal coal to Asian markets from the Vista mine in May 2019, located just east of Hinton.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has not received applications or an Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the Vista mine phase II.

On Feb. 21, Coalspur applied to the AER under the Coal Conservation Act, Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and Water Act to develop its Vista Test Underground Mine Project. 

As part of the application process, Coalspur is not required to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the AER for its Test Underground Mine Project.

The estimated processing time for the Vista Test Underground Mine application is 375 business days.

New applications are shared with the public through our Public Notice of Application web page.

Anyone who believes they may be directly or adversely affected by an application may file a statement of concern (SOC) with the AER. 

When an application is up for consideration, AER reviews every SOC received in relation to that application and determines whether a hearing should be held to further examine stakeholder concerns. 

Hearing notices are posted on the AER website.

Council accepts garbage collection route changes

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Changes to the Solid Waste Collection Route Options were accepted by council and a type of bin was selected during the standing committee meeting on Aug. 25.

Administration will implement the collection routes as operationally safe and efficient.

“This is going to be something that evolves a little bit, there’s going to be challenges we don’t know about yet and opportunities we don’t know about yet,” said Coun. Dewly Nelson.

He added that the report on route changes will be helpful for residents to know what’s coming.

The findings in the report on routes support that most homes that have back alley access would be able to switch to front street pickup safely and efficiently.

In only one area, on Sutherland Ave from upper Collinge Road to Rispler Way, it would be safer and more efficient to keep waste pickup in the back alley.

This is due to a congested narrow front street with many duplexes and a much wider back alley than most.

Emdad Haque, director of infrastructure services, explained that in most other areas, back alley bin placement in the winter would add to the challenge for the residents, as service levels for back alleys are considerably less than front streets, and back alleys are darker than front streets.

Approximately 27 to 30 homes may not be able to have front street collection due to poor or no access to the front street, stated the report.

Each resident will be consulted throughout the implementation of route changes.

Haque added that while some residents may prefer pickup in the back and some may prefer pickup in the front, administration will work to find solutions that may not please everybody.

“It has to be safe and operationally efficient,” Haque said. “We will work with them to address concerns.”

Mayor Marcel Michaels indicated he would be in support of a report for information on feedback from residents about the changes before the routes are implemented.

He added that in some areas, it’s more than just about safety and efficiency, but also about resident preference.

Coun. Trevor Haas noted that he was confident in administration working with anyone who has concerns.

If it doesn’t impact safety or efficiency, convenience for residents should be considered by administration, stated Nelson.

He added that he had no interest in citizens coming to council with requests for route changes and this would allow administration to make decisions to change routes based on preference.

CAO Emily Olsen voiced her concern with the inclusion of convenience, and that it should be discussed only when safety and efficiency are achieved.

Haque pointed out that if ten people like front pickup and six like back alley pickup, then the town has a big challenge on how to pick up each bin.

Haas agreed and added that this would cause challenges between residents as well.

“When administration did this review, it focused on safety and efficiency and part of that safety of using the back alleys or not, included the ability for vehicles to pass, the congestion in different areas, snow removal considerations and we really only proposed with back alley collection in areas where it was less efficient and less safe to do it on the front,” Olsen said.

Haque added that the safety aspect is not just for the operator, but also for the resident.

If any challenges are brought up, administration will bring those complaints to council for a decision.

Committee then recommended council to go ahead with the bins selected by council out of various options presented by administration.

The regular toter bins with a DuraLatch were selected as the bins to be used by residents in the solid waste collection program.

Administration was directed to proceed with implementation of the modernized waste collection program and retrofit the existing bins with the DuraLatch system.

This decision will come to a regular council meeting for further decision as it comes with a financial decision.

The DuraLatch is a simple latch that stands up to rain, wind gusts up to 65 mph, animals, and the day-to-day use of curbside waste collection. 

Haque hoped to present a DuraLatch to council but the package had not arrived prior to the meeting.

Olsen noted that Council will be able to take a look at the lock at the next meeting.

DuraLatch features gravity-based functionality, meaning the lid opens automatically when the garbage truck tips and empties the cart. It then latches when the cart is set back down on the curb.

These are the most common and affordable bins available for front load pickup and are already utilized in the pilot program area of East Hardisty.

The estimated cost for each DuraLatch part is $10 and can be installed on bins at any time.

The bins come with a 12-year body warranty and cost between $80 and $95 depending on its size.

This includes hot stamping of Town of Hinton logo and shipping. 

The estimated Capital cost of replacing 3000 96-gallon bins for Single Family Households will be $270,000.

A big concern during the pilot program was lids blowing open and that the DuraLock would ensure it stays closed, Coun. Albert Ostashek noted.

Nelson questioned that since the Town has not tested the bins, if one batch could be purchased for administration to have the opportunity to look at them.

“I wonder if a more staged approach may save administration a bit of time in the end,” Nelson said.

The decision to move on to the new bins and purchase the bins will be made by council at the next regular council meeting.

Majority of students will be in class

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Roughly 14 per cent of Hinton’s students within the Evergreen Catholic Separate School Division (ECSRD) have opted for virtual at-home learning in September.

Mike Paonessa, superintendent of ECSRD explained that families were given two options; in-class learning under the provincial COVID-19 conditions and guidelines, or virtual at-home learning.

At home learning would allow them to remain registered with the school and the division would support their learning at home through teachers and programming.

“In Hinton it is roughly 14 per cent of our kids and that is division wide, Hinton is no different. In Hinton we will have roughly 70 kids that are going to be at home learning and the remainder will be at school learning,” Paonessa said.

ECSRD has about 4,300 students and around 600 will learn from home.

After speaking with colleagues across the province, Paonessa noted that anywhere from 10 to 25 per cent of students opted for at-home virtual learning.

Families within the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) received an email inviting them to identify which option would work for their family this month.

Parents are still connecting with principals about their intentions, stated Dr. Kelly Harding, assistant superintendent of GYPSD.

ECSRD has reorganized their teachers based on the number of kids in a classroom.  If a whole class of kids is at home, that teacher is teaching virtually, and other teachers may teach virtually part time and in-class part time.

This is allowing for smaller class sizes in some instances and greater opportunity for physical distancing.

Each grade has access to an online teacher across the division but teachers may be reorganized each quarter based on the changes.

ECSRD broke their school year into quarters, in order for students to change their decision of virtual or in-class learning throughout the year.

At each quarter, some students may be coming into the schools and others may be leaving for virtual learning.

“We put money aside from our division to hire some teachers to work online,” Paonessa said.

Paonessa also noted that very few parents have chosen to completely leave the division for traditional homeschooling. While the province is allowing kids to practice extra curricular sports, ECSRD is choosing to hold off on sports until after the school year has begun.

Physical education will be offered in all schools, outdoors as much as they can, and avoiding team or contact activities.

“Starting with things that are adaptable in this environment just to see how things go,” Paonessa said.

Despite school boards stating they are ready for the new school year, the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) called on the province to push back the first day of school to give teachers and principals more time to prepare for teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There are some divisions in North America that have gone back with success and others have gone back with failures. We’re able to learn from the things that are going on and whether it’s Hinton or otherwise, the potential delay to the start of the school year for students entering would be stronger if the teachers and the divisions had more time to prepare,” stated Jesse Smeall, a Hinton teacher at Ecole Mountain View and local ATA president.

Students in many other Alberta divisions are returning the first week of September but GYPSD is returning students after labour day on Sept. 8, allowing teachers three days in schools to prepare.

Most teachers are asking for additional time to prepare for the additional health guidelines in place.

One of the three preparation days for GYPSD teachers is called “Kick off,” where the whole division gets together for professional development, while the other two include school staff meetings and in-class preparations.

“But with all of the additional measures being asked, whether it’s the spacing, the plexi glass, or the masking, or any of those things, even photocopying additional booklets because there is no shared materials, we need the extra time,” Smeall said.

Smeall added that GYPSD has a solid plan in place and it aligns with the provincial guidelines.

“They started preparing that at the end of the last school year when we were in emergency remote learning. They were ahead of the game for that,” she said.

Extra time could potentially create a safer environment as certain things will take time to put in place, Smeall noted.

“There are some teachers that are extremely comfortable going back and then on the other end we have some underlying health concerns with some teachers where there is some hesitancy going back. For themselves, for their students. It’s a tough situation,” Smeall said.

The level of how comfortable her colleagues are about returning to the classroom varies greatly, but most are ready to go back with some hesitancy in this brand new situation, Smeall added.

“While our re-entry plan, as written, already provides school boards with the ability to delay or stagger school start dates should they decide that is in their local best interest, I agreed to further engage with education partners and get their views on this ATA request. This was done by having follow-up discussions with the Alberta School Boards Association and the College of Alberta School Superintendents,” stated Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education on Aug 21.

Upon those discussions, the partner groups indicated their confidence that school re-entry plans provide local school authorities with the autonomy and flexibility to ensure local needs are met and to prepare schools for a safe re-entry.

Schools under the GYPSD rolled out individual re-entry plans on Monday taking into consideration their unique schools.

“Across the division we’ve made some really significant operational adaptations to ensure that we can provide real comprehensive well supported at-home learning options for families,” said Harding, during a virtual GYPSD press meeting.

Schools developed procedures outlining hand hygiene and cleaning requirements for schools.

Physical distancing is recommended through the provincial guidelines and face masks are required for teachers, staff, and students in grades 4 to 12.

Each principal will determine how physical education will occur within their schools, but gymnasiums can be used to deliver physical education programming.

HCHS will not be running any extra curricular programs this fall and will re-evaluate based on new information throughout the year.

“School principals have been working all summer to implement all of the government mandated health and safety protocols. They are also supporting parents to return to in-class learning if the at-home option is not working. Alternately, if parents want to shift their child to the at-home option later on, they will facilitate that shift,” Harding said.

High school students within GYPSD have the ability to choose from on-site learning, hybrid virtual learning at home, or at-home virtual learning.

Hybrid learning means they will receive a digitized virtual learning package of all the curricular outcomes, instruction, and learning, which can take place partially at school and partially at home.

High school students in the hybrid option have a special area within their schools where they can go for their virtual learning and get support from their high school teachers.

“Kids taking Math 30-1, Chem 30, or Physics 30; they really need that comprehensive support from teachers. We built this because we wanted to offer the best choices to our parents that we could,” said GYPSD superintendent, Carolyn Lewis.

The options available for junior high and elementary students are either on-site learning or at-home virtual learning. An adult will need to be available to help support the child in their virtual learning. 

Virtual learning is completely digitized but paper packages are available for families with an undependable internet connection.

GYPSD is encouraging parents to purchase a chrome book for their students if possible.

In an instance where that isn’t possible, they can communicate with the principal who may be able to loan them equipment that will help them with their virtual learning.

When schools switched to virtual learning in the spring, the programming was modified with only a few hours of instruction each day, but GYPSD is now offering the full courses virtually.

This means students can participate in a virtual classroom via their computer camera and microphone, receiving instruction and accessing the work.

Attendance is taken every day via their virtual classrooms and the courses are a lot more formal going into the new school year compared to the spring virtual learning.

For those students using paper packages, attendance will be tracked by the teacher assigned to them using the telephone and in-person meetings at The Learning Connection (TLC) sites within each community.

Teachers will work with parents to determine the process that works best. To help students and their families, Alberta distance learning teachers are available to offer support as well as GYPSD teachers.

Lewis explained that the GYPSD teacher may not necessarily be a teacher in the child’s regular school, depending on the number of kids who return to class and how the schools are reorganized.

“Some of our teachers may be teaching traditional in class and some of our teachers may be providing support virtually to our children at home,” Lewis said.

Students can also book a desk at a TLC site where they can receive support from TLC reachers.

“We’re ready to go for the fall and should we go into another quarantine, we’re ready for every single child to be in virtual education this year,” Lewis said, assuring that the division is ready to move into any scenario proposed by the provincial government and Alberta’s medical chief officer of health.

“What I’m proud about and outstanding in our jurisdiction is our amazing staff. Our principals in particular, who are so committed to their families, they want to do right by them. Every step of the way,” stated Lewis.

Lewis pointed out that since the government changed the school funding formula, only the school in which they are registered receives funding for that child.

This means, if a number of kids are pulled from the division and they lose those allocations, they could lose staff, she explained.

For more info on GYPSD schools, head to gypsd.ca, or find info on ECSRD schools at ecsrd.ca.

Friends of Switzer complete Hanington Hut

Masha Scheele photo

Masha Scheele

The Hanington warming hut is a new addition along the Joachim Valley Trail since this spring.

The Friends of Switzer Park Cooperating Association came forward with the idea to build a little cabin along the trail for people to enjoy and use for warmth in the winter as they cross country ski the trails.

Friends of Switzer is a volunteer organization who dedicate their time to improving and supporting the park. 

Projects include developing and clearing trails, hosting special events, supporting environmental education, grooming ski trails, and this year they raised money for a warming hut.

“I came up with the design based on what their wishes were and I added a bit more flare to it, because I thought it was a real nice opportunity to be building in such a unique spot,” said Mark Deagle, local contractor and log builder.

Concrete was put into the ground in October 2019 before the frost settled in for the winter, and using the cross country ski trails in the spring, the building was brought to its final destination in pieces.

“It was quite dramatic because we went in with a couple of trailers, it was quite a load,” Deagle explained.

The trailers didn’t do so well and sunk in the snow but with the help of a skid steer they were able to move the pieces through the valley.

Deagle added that the ski track was beneficial due to the packed down snow creating a solid surface.

The floor, stairs, and walls of the hut were then reassembled in its spot and the roof was added to finish off the project.

Some mighty ruts were left in the snow after the whole project was finished, but with a quick groom by the Friends of Switzer, the trail looked as good as new.

Submitted Photo. Hanington Hut under construction.

The hut was named in memory of Jacqueline Hanington, a long time resident and one of the original members of Friends of Switzer.

“She was pretty passionate about Switzer Park and was just a member of the Friends of Switzer, and they just seemed like a hardworking bunch, that whole crew,” Deagle commented.

Hanington passed away around the time they were raising funds for the hut, explained Derrek Swain of the Friends of Switzer.

A dedication plaque to Hanington is placed in the hut and more information boards will be put up inside the hut in respect to other early members of the Friends of Switzer.

As the hut was being constructed, it caused a bit of a buzz, and it will continue to do so with that kind of destination, Deagle continued.It was refreshing to see how many people were coming out to see the area.

“That was a seldom used trail, anything that is going to benefit people getting into the outdoors is a good thing and so I believed in the program,” Deagle said.

Starting near the Jarvis Lake campground, the trail leads past an indigenous burial ground and eventually branches off into different directions.

“A lot of the area from here to Grande Cache is actually pretty historic and there’s a lot of areas in the Joachim valley and other areas in Switzer Park that are sacred to the indigenous peoples,’’ said Swain.

Following the trail past the turnoff to the Athabasca Lookout will lead hikers towards an abandoned airplane.

“The airplane was brought in there for practice for the army or airforce,” Swain added.

The airplane along the Joachim Valley trail

Just before the airplane is a path that branches towards the mountains on the right side.

Once down that path, hikers walk into a wide open space with a great view of the mountains and the Hanington hut to their left.

The Friends of Switzer are waiting on a wood burning stove right now, which should soon be installed as the finishing touch to the hut.

Sweet shot drops for ace

Tyler Waugh

Jason Sweet joked with his Industrial League teammates on the Putt Pirates that he didn’t like the par three Hole 17 because he was always between clubs for the 113 yard tee shot.

The solution? Just hit the 56 degree wedge thin – that’s how Sweet scored his first-ever hole in one during league play on Aug. 18.

“I definitely hit it thin and it flew low,” said Sweet afterward.

The hole was a blue pin and the team didn’t see the ball roll in after it rolled over a ridge toward the back of the green.

“We lost sight of the ball. I was surprised it didn’t roll all the way off the back,” Sweet said.

The group didn’t realize the ball was in the hole until they got up to the green. They found a ball mark they think was Sweet’s about 12 feet from the pin.

The hole in one was witnessed by teammates Colton Boutin, Tyler Hore, Brett Cieslikowski, Ray Brazeau and Dan Wambolt. The crew went for beer and wings after to mark the occasion – the drinks were on Sweet as is tradition.

No decision made on mandatory masks in Hinton

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council discussed the use of mandatory masks in public spaces during the standing committee meeting on Aug. 25 but made no decision going forward.

“Whether we go down the path of a mask bylaw or no mask bylaw, I think some indication of which way we’re going will help citizens understand one of the 75 moving parts they have right now,” Coun. Dewly Nelson said.

Todd Martens, Hinton’s protective services manager, indicated the Town has looked at Banff, Jasper, Edson, Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge and the bylaws they passed for mandatory mask bylaws.

Calgary implemented fines for businesses if they didn’t post signage, which was done to notify visitors from other communities.

Edson implemented a trigger-based bylaw, where masks would become mandatory only at a medium rated risk level with at least ten local active cases of COVID-19.

Martens added that Hinton could put together a draft bylaw fairly quickly using bylaws as examples from those other communities. 

Some communities like Banff and Jasper implemented their mask bylaw based on tourism, and others like larger centres implemented their bylaw due to the size of their city.

Mayor Marcel Michaels suggested a request for an information item indicating the pros and cons of implementing mask bylaws.

“I’m obviously not a medical expert, I go to different sources online to try and listen to things about more specifics on positive or negative impacts on masks. I think if we have a bit more of a framed conversation on Sept. 8 with an information item, I’m not prepared to say I want a draft bylaw yet,” Michaels said.

CAO Emily Olsen stated there is some additional support administration could tap into for a high level report on Sept. 8 including an overview of what other communities are doing, but no recommendation from administration would be made.

Coun. Albert Ostashek voiced his concern about sending administration to research something that isn’t fully justified.

“A mask bylaw, to me, that’s a very significant, serious mandate to impose on people who may not be completely comfortable, for one reason or another, with the idea of being forced to wear masks in public. Without something to justify that, I have a hard time getting behind it and supporting it,” Ostashek said.

He did point out that he wears a mask in public and encourages others to wear one and businesses to recommend them.

He added that masks are just one mechanism to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Administration and a trigger of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) can deal with any potential risks of COVID-19 immediately in various ways.

The state of local emergency (SOLE) would allow administration the power to do what is necessary for the protection of the community, including mandating masks.

A potential bylaw could be educational or enforceable, Martens added.

Nelson noted that if administration can mandate masks under the SOLE, then it could be beneficial to create a bylaw prior to mandating it.

If a bylaw is drafted prior to implementation, the citizens of Hinton can be considered in its draft.

“I don’t think deferring everything to the EOC and putting it all on administration’s shoulders is the correct thing for a council to do,” Nelson added. “If we have an appetite to implement a mask bylaw as part of the EOC, then let’s develop the bylaw as a council and represent our citizens that way.”

Coun. Trevor Haas added that communities are protected through the health guidelines and tracking of active cases.

Without the use of masks, the community is already protected from any potential risk, he added.

Coun. JoAnn Race stated that if a bylaw is drafted and created, it may never be enacted, but if necessary, at least it is there.

With nobody putting forth a direction, Michaels stated that with no will to move forward, council can reassess in a couple of weeks and continue watching how the province reacts to the pandemic.