Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Long weekends at the cabin or camping in the mountains are a summer tradition in Western Canada.
For people in British Columbia, that might mean a trip to Whistler or a drive into the Okanagan’s wine country. For many in Alberta, it means a trip across the boundary into B.C. to places such as Invermere, Golden or Osoyoos.
In those communities, travel is the lifeblood of their local economies, which have already been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. That has made it all the more difficult for them to take down the welcome signs and urge travellers to stay away over fears they could spread the virus and overwhelm scant resources in small towns and rural areas.
In some cases, those tensions have boiled over. RCMP in B.C.'s Columbia Valley have received reports of verbal altercations between locals and Albertans. In Kimberley, B.C., a stream of Alberta licence plates have made grocery store workers anxious. In Golden, B.C., all it takes is a trip to a gas station to spot people who have crossed the provincial boundary about 45 minutes to the east.
Mike Hager and Michelle Allan looked at how those communities are bracing for the potential influx of travellers who decide to ignore public-health advice.
In Tofino, the RCMP and Parks Canada have set up checkpoints to reinforce that advice, with the hopes that some may think twice and turn around. Banff has set up similar roadblocks to discourage visitors who don’t have a good reason to be coming into the town.
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne says dozens of cars turned back when confronted with that information over the Easter long weekend even though it was optional.
“What [RCMP] learned was most people who had been coming up hadn’t really thought about their impact – they were just bored,” Ms. Osborne says.
Banff and Canmore say they still don’t want any visitors despite the Alberta health officer changing her recommendations to allow travel to cabins and summer homes as long as people don’t leave the province. B.C. is still recommending against any non-essential travel, even within the province.
It’s a painful decision to forgot the visitors – and the revenue – during what is typically the first big weekend of the year for these communities.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says the tourism season in the region is worth $1-billion, mostly squeezed into the 16 weeks between Victoria Day and Labour Day.
“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 says.
“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.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
SCHOOLS OPEN: British Columbia has outlined a plan to reopen schools in June for optional, part-time classes, an effort to get kids back into classrooms who don’t do well studying online. The cautious, slow start is also an effort at a test run to see how things might need to operate when classes resume full-time in September. Class times and breaks will be staggered, and students from Kindergarten to Grade 5 will be allowed to return for no more than half of their usual instruction time. Students in Grades 6 to 12 will likely have classes offered one day a week, so that there are no more than 20 per cent of students in the school at any one time.
The details will be worked out by each of the province’s 60 school districts as well as independent schools in the next week. Every school will have to produce a plan, based on guidelines from the Provincial Health Officer, to ensure that students are spread out to maintain physical distancing, and to provide extra cleaning, and additional hand-washing stations.
A typical school will have students enter individually through a single set of doors, where they’ll be expected to wash their hands. Inside and out on the school grounds, they will be required to stay two metres apart from others. Hallways and other common spaces will feature directional signs to avoid congestion. Students will keep personal items in a bag or backpack, with no access to lockers. Playground equipment will likely remain off limits, and students will be encouraged to avoid hugs or handshakes. Classes may be held outdoors when possible.
POLITICAL FUNDRAISING: A special prosecutor appointed to look into criminal allegations around political fundraising in British Columbia has concluded there is insufficient evidence to lay charges. The report says where violations have occurred, the RCMP has determined that it is not in the public interest to pursue a prosecution because the cost of doing so would be disproportionate to the value of the donations under investigation.
“I have spent considerable time reviewing the data gathered by the RCMP and have determined that the conclusion of the police is correct: that there is insufficient evidence available to meet the charge approval standard in this case,” David Butcher, the special prosecutor, said in the statement.
Mr. Butcher was appointed following a Globe and Mail investigation that detailed how fundraising provisions of B.C.’s Election Act were being circumvented by lobbyists and others to disguise the real source of their donations – a tactic in clear contravention of the law.
Globe columnist Gary Mason takes issue with Mr. Butcher’s conclusion.
“There is no question, in my mind, that laws were broken here. And no one should even begin to suggest otherwise. It’s also wrong to play down the matter, or to intimate in any way that it wasn’t a big deal because we weren’t talking about millions of dollars. That misses the point completely. Election finance laws, such as they were at the time, were violated and those who did the violating won’t face any consequences. That’s the bottom line.”
ALBERTA REOPENING: Premier Jason Kenney put Calgary and Brooks, a city of about 15,000 people in a rural part of the province, on their own schedule for the first phase of the restart. Barbers in Calgary and Brooks, for example, will not be able to pull out their clippers until May 25, while hairstylists in the rest of the province resumed operations Thursday. Restaurants and pubs in the two cities will also have to wait until then before opening. Retailers, daycares, museums and some non-essential medical procedures were allowed to open in Calgary and Brooks on Thursday along with the rest of the province. The delayed relaunch in Calgary has prompted the city to promise stricter enforcement of public-health orders over the May long weekend.
WET’SUWET’EN: On Thursday, the Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs held a virtual meeting with the B.C. and federal governments to sign a memorandum of understanding that outlines an expedited process to implement rights and title over their traditional territory, known as their “yin tah.” Five elected chiefs of Wet’suwet’en band councils along Coastal GasLink’s pipeline route back the energy project and say they were shut out of the ratification process for the agreement.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY: British Columbia lost more jobs in the past two months than many analysts expected because its economy is more heavily weighted toward tourism and personal-care services than elsewhere in Canada. About 400,000 jobs of the total three million jobs lost in Canada during March and April because of the COVID-19 pandemic were in B.C., which is about the same as the province’s share of the population. But B.C. had far less of its economy shut down than provinces such as Ontario and Quebec, where there were more restrictive rules about construction, manufacturing and non-essential businesses.
SASKATCHEWAN MURDER: Two people have been sentenced for being accessories after the killing of an Edmonton woman in Saskatchewan. Tiki Laverdiere was reported missing last May after she attended a friend’s funeral on the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan. The 25-year-old’s remains were found about two months later in a rural area outside North Battleford.
CLOSING SASKATCHEWAN EMERGENCY ROOMS: A farmer in Saskatchewan is questioning the provincial government’s decision to temporarily close his town’s emergency room and why there wasn’t more notice. The health authority says there are 12 community facilities where acute-care admissions and emergency services are being temporarily suspended to ensure enough capacity if the novel coronavirus surges.
PALLISTER’S LETTERS TO SENIORS: When Manitoba seniors receive a special cheque from the provincial government later this month, they’ll also get a letter from Premier Brian Pallister. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the move may come across as partisan activity on the public dime, but Pallister says he’s simply thanking seniors in a non-partisan way.
MANITOBA RCMP OFFICER CHARGED: An investigation into an arrest in which a teenage girl was injured has led to a charge against a Manitoba RCMP officer. The Independent Investigation Unit says the 15-year-old was hurt when Mounties tried to remove her from a home in Flin Flon last November.
SLOW STREETS: Vancouver will turn 50 kilometres of residential roads into “slow streets,” allowing local access only, to increase room for walking and cycling as part of a larger plan to repurpose civic spaces in an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. The city is also moving to allow temporary restaurant patios on sidewalks and side streets, according to a team of engineers and planners who addressed Vancouver City Council on Wednesday, but that change won’t happen for a few weeks to a month.
Kelly Cryderman on Fort McMurray’s tough road ahead: “The mayor noted the local government body, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, has made the decision to ease the pandemic and flood-related economic strain on the community by cutting $168-million in property taxes this year. Much of the benefit will flow to oil sands companies operating in the region. In this act of cutting taxes for big bitumen, the council recognizes the economic recovery for Fort McMurray is going to depend in a major way on oil. The same can be said of Canada as a whole.”
Gary Mason on the NHL: “Let’s say you get this odd, quarantined season up and running. Then one person – player, support staff, doesn’t matter – tests positive. Then you have a problem. Then you’re talking about more testing, even putting players in isolation for 14 days. You may have to cancel the whole exercise if the outbreak is significant enough. What a nightmare.”
Adam Pankratz on the declaration that oil is dead: “The pandemic has given us a taste of what a rapid elimination of fossil fuels from the economy would look like. Yes, there has been a sharp decline in the demand for oil worldwide, since people are staying home and the airline industry has been shut down. Global carbon output is expected to plunge by the largest amount since the Second World War. But the power that Canadians are using while sequestered inside their homes – as well as our supply chains – still relies on an industry being dismissed as ‘dead.’ Let us not forget that the year in which the world consumed the most oil to date was 2019.”