Steinbach mayor Earl Funk is urging Premier Brian Pallister to fast-track the lifting of restrictions on businesses and churches as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides in Manitoba.
Funk recited a letter he wrote to Pallister during a city council meeting last Tuesday.
The letter commends Pallister for continuing to relax limits on public gathering sizes and restaurant capacities, but says the premier isn’t moving fast enough to unencumber places of worship.
Pallister detailed Phase 3 of the Manitoba government’s recovery roadmap last Wednesday. The changes took effect Sunday.
A draft version of Phase 3 circulated for public feedback initially prompted Funk's letter. It proposed requiring indoor places of worship to operate at 30 percent of site capacity to a maximum of 300 people, "provided the group can be physically divided into sub-groups of 50 or fewer."
The final version of the Phase 3 regulations deleted the 300-person maximum, but retained clauses on subgroups and the 30-percent capacity restriction.
Funk said in his letter he has "serious concerns" about the approach the province is taking. He asked Pallister to lift all restrictions on churches "at the earliest opportunity."
"Most church buildings are not designed to separate people this way," Funk wrote, making it "nearly impossible" for most local churches to hold regular services.
Funk noted the Alberta government scrapped capacity limits on churches on June 12. Alberta has recorded over 7,700 cases of COVID-19, compared to Manitoba’s 314.
"If it is safe to attend church in Alberta, it should be safe in Manitoba as well," Funk wrote.
The letter asserts places of worship "play a vital role in promoting community health and public wellbeing."
"Religious gatherings are integral to the mental and physical health of Manitobans," Funk said.
His letter prompted two other councillors to deliver prepared statements of their own.
Councillor Damian Penner, a pizzeria owner, laced his comments on restaurant restrictions with sarcasm.
"How kind of the province to allow private businesses to be given just a slightest chance at actually being able to turn a profit," he said.
The first-term councillor also criticized public health officials who warned an increase in infections may accompany the reopening of non-essential businesses.
"Every time the government has made a projection of new cases, and how badly we need to continue to protect ourselves, they are out in left field. Even a weatherman would scoff at their ability to predict the future," Penner said.
Councillor Susan Penner said the province’s restrictions have been out of step with infection rates for some time.
"The goal was to slow the spread of COVID so that hospitals would not become overcrowded. Fast forward two months and it seems that decisions are no longer being made based on data, but are arbitrary," she said.
"It should be business as usual, worship as usual, and school as usual."
Councillor Michael Zwaagstra took a more measured approach, saying it was important for municipal officials to voice their opinion on how and when higher levels of government should revive the economy and allow citizens more freedom of assembly.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.