P.E.I. remains closed to visitors, but 'working diligently' to allow seasonal residents: premier
HALIFAX -- For many Maritimers, Victoria Day weekend usually means a visit to the cottage for the unofficial start of summer, and for more than a few, that means a visit to Prince Edward Island for the "May Run."
But not this year, as the island remains closed to visitors, even as P.E.I. eases some of its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
In an interview Thursday, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King told CTV Atlantic anchor Steve Murphy that the main risk facing his province continues to be importation of the virus from travel.
“We’ve been asking people to not get here before June 12 right now because of the public health emergency and the state of emergency that we are in. It goes against every fibre of our being as islanders, and we are working diligently to try to find a way to get our island seasonal residents back here,” said King.
That includes non-residents who own property on the island, something that some have pointed out as "unconstitutional" based on Canada’s mobility rights and property rights.
King says that about 75 per cent of his recent daily correspondence has been with seasonal residents who are anxious to get back to P.E.I.
“That’s big business for us too, that’s $50 or $60 million that we figure gets run through here on a seasonal basis, so that’s money that we need here. We’re trying to walk that very fine line of being safe, being careful but also trying to very gradually open up our economy, so we’re hoping to get there really soon.”
When asked about giving tax rebates to non-resident property owners who aren’t able to access their property, King didn’t rule it out, but said it wouldn’t be his first choice.
“My first interest is to get them back here and as soon as possible,” said King. “Nobody has reached out to me saying they are looking for tax relief; they want to come home. If we have to go down that road, I’m sure we can look at all that, but they want to come home to P.E.I.”
Prince Edward Island has had just 27 cases of COVID-19, with the last case reported on April 28. All 27 cases are now considered recovered.
While P.E.I. has, so far, had a high degree of compliance with restrictions on the island, King admits that there is a risk of a setback as they move towards phase two of the province's "Renew P.E.I. Together" reopening plan.
“I think a big reason of why we are where we are is because people have been so accountable and so responsible, and for us to continue going further we need them to continue with that,” said King. “Do we run the risk as we open up a little more to a broader movement of our public? Absolutely. Are we asking people to forget the last eight weeks of how we’ve acted? Absolutely not. But we have been talking a lot about learning to live with hope and we have to make these steps, but we’re doing it carefully and cautiously, and we’re always concerned.”
The idea of a ‘tourism bubble,' allowing New Brunswick and P.E.I. residents to enter each other's provinces via the Confederation Bridge has been floated as a possibility, perhaps as early as July.
King says that while there is still some work to be done to make that a reality, he is hopeful that a shared bubble could be possible.
“We had a great call yesterday with our Atlantic premiers, we talked about the bubbling interprovincially and even a long-term deal of how we can do that from an Atlantic perspective. There’s a lot of work that has to be done between then and now, but I can’t wait until I see cars slowing across the Confederation Bridge like that used to.”
King has recently said that the pandemic has brought out the very best in many islanders, but in some ways, it has brought out the very worst.
“We understand there is a fear of the unknown and of the virus, but there are some isolated incidents where we’ve been seeing people treated unfairly because they look like they’re someone who may have COVID-19, from the colour of their skin or the language we speak, and I just wanted to make the point to remind people who we are as islanders and how we’ve gotten here, but overall I am very impressed, we have seen the best of most islanders,” said King.
When further asked for details of how many of these incidents have occurred, King said they are isolated incidents, but still troubling.
“We’ve had situations here where we’ve had people following cars because they have a licence plate from out of province, things that like, some people feel threatened by that, and also some people who have been refused entry in stores because maybe they don’t look like they’re from here. That’s very disturbing to me as a premier, and even more so as an islander, because I know that’s not who we are," said King.
The province’s lobster season is scheduled to open Friday, with conditions that include physical distancing on boats when possible -- something that King admits will be challenging for the industry.
“I think they will make every possible effort to do so, but it will be difficult,” said King. “They will obviously try to be as safe and as careful as possible -- that’s the life of a fisher everyday. I have great confidence that through our public health office and the interactions we’ve had with the fishery that every possible undertaking that is being held here to keep people safe.”