Editor’s Note: The following letter was submitted just prior to the rescinding of Mayor Steve Ferguson’s motion to ask the Province to dissuade visitors from coming to Prince Edward County (Page 1 of today’s Gazette).
We are at war! I say this because people in Canada are being threatened with disease and death indiscriminately. War is a series of battles. We are coming to the end of our first battle.
From my prospective the proposed resolution is quite clear. We want to discourage people from moving within the community (travel). The numbers provided by Hastings Prince Edward Public Health show that travel is the number one cause of virus transmission.
Adding words like non-essential to the resolution only waters down the resolution since already people seem to think that travel to a secondary residence is acceptable social behaviour. I have witnessed seasonal residents coming and going on the weekends with others and generally carrying on as they have in past years while opening their secondary residences. Travel itself is not dangerous, however the actions while travelling are.
Travel promotes contact and that is specifically what we need to discourage. Several councillors mentioned their hope normal life would resume in the summer. There is no evidence we have the means to identify effectively (effectively means quickly, accurately and easily) carriers of the virus. We don’t have an effective remedy nor an immunization protocol.
I have to stress I do not oppose people deciding to live in a safer environment (the county as opposed to bigger cities) as long as they reduce or eliminate contacts with others (travel being one dangerous and unacceptable activity except for feeding oneself and seeking medical help).
We are at war! Stay home means stop travelling! The message ‘stay at home’ is just too subtle for many. Do not travel is more direct.
We seem to have arrived at a stalemate in our first battle with the virus. We have managed to slow the spread of the virus but not eliminate it. What we do next will determine how our next battles will fare. These battles will play on a social battlefield as well as on financial front.
Some council members expressed the hope that normal tourist migrations would resume this summer.
In the last week of April the CBC News1 reported that 1,249 deaths and 11,390 people have recovered in Ontario. This is close to a ratio of 1 death per 10 people infected. Do we want to live up to this ratio in the county? In fact the latest findings are that the virus will likely have lasting effects on the health of individuals who have survived the infection.
People traveling pose a serious threat to the well-being of all people who live or work in the county especially those that need to continue working in essential services.
The reality is our municipality has few options to limit movement of individuals. Provincial and federal governments have discretionary powers at their disposal, but a municipal entity has limited powers. We have to rely on other means. A few years ago the municipality declared itself an unwilling host for wind generation of electricity. This had no legal implications, but set the tone for future negotiations.
Seasonal residents maintain they pay taxes and therefore have a right to access their properties when they choose. Paying municipal taxes is payment for infrastructure but it is the Charter of Rights that guarantees freedom of movement even though it is now socially irresponsible to defy ‘stay at home’ advisories.
In our case we need to take all steps possible to discourage visitors (seasonal and day trippers) to stay away.
Some council members have alluded to the fact the business community is suffering badly. This is true but it is not only the business community that is suffering. Residents in general have already begun to feel price increases and will continue to do so as the cost of offering materials and services becomes more onerous. We will all start to feel the burden of increased taxes to pay for extended social safety nets and to cover short falls in revenues at all levels of government.
Yes there is a price to pay. We will bear this burden for years to come in the form of higher taxes, but the alternative, diminished health or death is worse.
Listening to the debate over the resolution it became clear the overwhelming concern was about the image the resolution would project and not about the benefits the resolution would convey on the people living and working in Prince Edward County (PEC). Debate should have centered on what additional verbiage could be added to the resolution to contribute to better protecting workers and residents of PEC.
Since we are no further ahead than we were at the end of February we need to build on the fact we have slowed to progression of the virus in PEC and now start the battle to consolidate on keeping infections from spreading, which in turn leads us to minimizing traveling within county borders.
I encourage you to keep looking for all manner of ways to protect the health and safety of all people living and working in Prince Edward County. The biggest weapon at our disposal at this moment to fight this war is marketing and public opinion.
Eric De Pauw