Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne says her seaside British Columbia community is nervous about an onslaught of sand and surf seekers this long weekend, but is hoping any visitors think twice and turn around once they hit an information checkpoint run by RCMP and Parks Canada outside of town.
This ask-not-demand approach worked well over Easter, where dozens of cars a day were informed the grave risk an introduction of COVID-19 could bring to the one-ventilator community and volunteered to drive east back to their homes or other parts of Vancouver Island, she said.
"It wasn’t about defiance, they just hadn’t really thought about their impact on other people ... one group of people [told Mounties] ‘we’re just bored at home and went for a drive,’” says Ms. Osborne, who closed her 10-room lodge two months ago but has kept her botanical garden open for locals wanting respite from the stress of pandemic life.
This long weekend is the unofficial start to summer, but mayors of tourist hotspots across B.C. are worried people buoyed by reports of fewer new confirmed cases will venture further afield and introduce an outbreak into their communities. And different rules between provinces are magnifying the tension in the southeastern part of the B.C., where the economy depends on an influx of tourists and owners of vacation homes from Alberta.
On Friday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, urged anyone in her province, or neighbouring B.C. and Saskatchewan, who is thinking about vacationing over provincial boundaries to reconsider. She said the province has put in measures to discourage interprovincial travel, such as limiting camping reservations in provincial parks to Albertans, but she doesn’t see the need right now to use legal tools to enforce her recommendations.
Ron Oszust, the mayor of Golden, B.C., is not confident people will follow Alberta’s official recommendation. When The Globe and Mail called for an interview Friday morning, the leader of the small B.C. ski town a three-hour’s drive west of Calgary was staring directly at evidence that people are disobeying this suggestion.
“I’m standing at the gas station filling up my vehicle, and there are six vehicles around me, fuelling up and they all have Alberta plates,” Mr. Oszust told The Globe. “It’s unfortunate that people don’t take this serious.”
"We are hopeful that they respect social distancing, we are hopeful that they are not ill and put a burden on our medical and health care system.”
B.C. is still recommending against such non-essential travel and asking citizens to stick to enjoying the parks and wilderness in their proverbial backyards.
To the west of the Rockies, locals may think Alberta’s red licence plates are a dead giveaway that someone is visiting from out of town, but RCMP are warning everyone not to make this assumption. The caution comes in the wake of two nasty verbal altercations that occurred recently in the Columbia Valley. No one was injured in the confrontations reported to police, but Mounties want to stop further incidents from happening.
“The BC RCMP are mindful that many British Columbians and Albertans alike reside in one province and commute to the neighbouring province for essential work,” regional spokesperson Corporal Jesse O’Donaghey said in an e-mailed statement. “The public should respect that they may not have all the information regarding someone’s personal circumstances or purpose for being outside of their home province.”
Vaughn Jarrett, who owns and operates Mark Creek Market in Kimberley, a small B.C. town nestled between the Purcell and Rocky Mountain ranges, said many of his staff at the grocery store are older and worried about serving people who roll into the parking lot with Alberta’s red licence plates, which now happens a couple times a day.
"When you look at Calgary and Brooks and that whole area, there are still hotspots, so people are kinda nervous of them coming out here,” Mr. Jarrett said. “Kimberley has been locked down pretty good actually, I’ve been impressed with the town.”
In the past 2 weeks − the incubation period for the virus − B.C. has seen an average of 19.5 new cases a day, while Alberta is still grappling with an average of 86.4 new cases a day.
Pierre Garsonnin, owner of Pedal and Tap gastropub in Kimberley, says he expects this weekend to be very busy with people visiting their vacation homes. If cases spike and restrictions on restaurants are intensified, then Pedal and Tap would have to close for good, he said.
“For now, we’re treading water, which is great,” he said.
According to data from the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, two of the main highways from Calgary into the province had a 17-per-cent reduction in daily average traffic this March compared with the previous year and almost half as many cars in April compared with that same month in 2019.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said businesses in the region’s billion-dollar tourism sector survive the year by making their money in the 16 weeks between Victoria Day and Labour Day. Many people come from B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Alberta to enjoy the many golf courses, lakes and the vineyards each summer.
“There is definitely some apprehension or concern that they’re coming from an area that is still not under control and it could ruin the progressive work we’re doing to reopen and set us back,” Mr. Basran said. “It’s tough for those tourism-dependent businesses who understand the reason, but are seeing another long weekend come and go where people are being told to stay away.”
With a report from James Keller in Calgary
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