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When Parks Canada announced it was restricting vehicle access to national parks, the town of Canmore was left with little choice but to declare a local state of emergency.
Canmore had already seen a surprising influx of out-of-town visitors last weekend, before access to Banff National Park was restricted. The possibility that there might be more on the way this weekend was a serious worry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday morning, Canmore declared a state of local emergency that allows the town to take additional action.
“The first fairly major trigger was the announcement by Parks Canada about the closure of the national park. We have a pretty good idea that that’s going to have an impact on the town of Canmore but we don’t know for sure what that impact might be,” said Canmore mayor John Borrowman. “We’ve been managing to keep up with the situation quite well but if there’s another significant influx of visitors from out of town, from the region, we just can’t have that.
“It would be taxing our resources and I’ve been broadcasting the message for the last several days that now is not the time to come to Canmore. Please, don’t come to Canmore.”
Canmore has closed municipal playgrounds and is allowing residents and business owners to defer property tax and utility payments for April, May and June for 90 days without penalty or interest.
Declaring a local state of emergency had been debated for more than a week, since the town of Banff had done so on March 17. Until Wednesday, though, Borrowman said it was felt that the town could manage its response to the COVID-19 pandemic without taking the next step.
A combination of growing anxiety in the community and the prospect of more visitors coming to Canmore now that they’ve lost access to Banff National Park changed the situation, however, and Borrowman signed the state of local emergency declaration at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“Pretty much everything we’ve been doing since the pandemic started to have such a major impact is work that we can do under our normal authority,” Borrowman said. “Declaring a state of local emergency is a fairly major step and shouldn’t be a knee-jerk sort of thing. There had to be real thought about it.
“Our residents are really worried and concerned. We felt it was important to move to the next level and be more prepared to take more drastic actions if we feel they’re necessary, promptly.”
While declaring a local state of emergency does allow the town to act more quickly as the situation relating to the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, it doesn’t grant the ability to close highway exits to out-of-town travellers. That falls under provincial jurisdiction.
There will be signs posted at the entrances to the town discouraging visitors and also reminding locals of what they can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19: Washing hands, staying home and not gathering in groups.
“We keep hammering to our local residents, go outside for a walk or a ski or whatever. It’s important to get out every day but keep that distance between people, ” Borrowman said. “Those messages are not only for people from out of town, but locals.”
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