The provincial government could have done a better job communicating about their plans for accessing the border with New Brunswick, but for a group to protest closed borders, by closing a border, is absurd.
Nova Scotia’s borders opened on June 23 to residents of the three other Atlantic Provinces, with plans to open the province to travellers from outside Atlantic Canada on June 30.
It was the provincial government’s decision to allow people travelling from Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador to enter Nova Scotia “for any reason” and not requiring they self-isolate or complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form that drew the most controversy, since this does not apply to those coming from New Brunswick.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said the province will continue to support the border policy, as well as routine testing for all Nova Scotians.
Then on June 23, the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border was closed by those protesting public health measures.
The Cumberland District RCMP advised the public that Highway 104 at the border was closed in both the east and west bound lanes. The RCMP said its units from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were on the scene, and traffic was being diverted. They asked the public to avoid unnecessary travel and to use caution when driving in the area.
The province said the Emergency Management Office was aware that the situation was having an impact on the transportation sector and supply chains, including refrigerated trucks carrying perishable foods that could spoil if they run out of fuel, medication to pharmacies, and propane supplies for industrial customers.
Wholesale food deliveries to restaurants are impacted as is feed to livestock, affecting small businesses and farmers across the region, the province said.
Inclusive Economic Growth Minister Labi Kousoulis said the longer this went on, the more risk there was that someone might not be able to get something they need.
Additionally, traffic congestion in Amherst was high due to vehicles parking in the town, the province said, noting this had the potential to create conditions that could slow emergency vehicles responding to calls.
The blockade disrupted health care services at the Cumberland Regional Health Centre, including the cancellation of more than 100 appointments for important services such as prenatal, services for children with autism and pacemaker care, the province said.
According to the province, the blockade also disrupted vital home care for residents in Cumberland County and stopped fragile test samples for children with life-threatening conditions coming from New Brunswick and PEI from arriving at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
The parking lot at the vaccine clinic in Cumberland County was blocked, and according to the province, posed a risk to those trying to get their COVID-19 vaccines.
On the other side of the coin, the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) called on the government to reverse their decision and work with New Brunswick government on protocols that will not penalize the tourism sector.
TIANS said it had grave concerns regarding changes to the Atlantic Bubble guidelines announced one day before the regional re-opening.
They said the tourism industry was planning, expecting and selling Nova Scotia vacations based on the June 23 re-opening date. Since the announcement, TIANS said hundreds of cancellations were made by New Brunswickers.
On June 24, the province announced it opened the border to people travelling from New Brunswick without restrictions starting today (June 30). There will be no requirements to self-isolate or complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in, they noted.
Also beginning June 30, the province said people travelling from provinces and territories outside Atlantic Canada can come into Nova Scotia, and they will have to complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form, upload their proof of vaccination electronically and be prepared to show it, if asked by border officials.
However, they may have to isolate based on vaccination and testing, the province said, noting that people who have had two doses of vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in Nova Scotia will not have to self-isolate; testing is recommended.
The province said those who have had one dose of vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in Nova Scotia must self-isolate for at least seven days, cannot leave isolation until they get two negative tests results while in Nova Scotia, and tests should be on day one or two and on day five or six.
People who have not had any vaccine and those who had a first dose within 14 days of arrival must isolate for 14 days, and testing at the beginning and end of their isolation continues to be recommended, the province said.
Effective immediately, people travelling from New Brunswick with two doses do not have to isolate at all, and testing is recommended, the provincial government noted.
Currently, anyone from outside Atlantic Canada who completes 14 days of isolation in Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador can enter Nova Scotia without isolating again, the province said.
Nova Scotia’s Opposition Leader, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston issued a statement on June 23 asserting that “the last minute” border change left people angry and feeling double-crossed.
The PC Leader said Rankin knew New Brunswick was opening to Canada “weeks ago” and still decided to move forward with the agreed date of the bubble. Then, less than 24 hours before the bubble opens, Houston said “he bursts it without explanation,” claiming this was the result of “weak leadership.”
Claiming it would be one thing to justify a last-minute change with data, statistics and facts, Houston said the Premier has been unable to explain his decision.
As for the blockade at the border, Houston said it speaks to the levels of exhaustion and exasperation felt by the community, but he added that “closing the highway isn’t the answer,” and he later called on protestors to end their blockade.
By June 24, the RCMP arrested three people taking part in what they termed an “illegal blockade.”
After attempting to engage in “a meaningful dialogue,” the RCMP stated that additional forces were deployed after it was clear a peaceful resolution could not be achieved.
That night RCMP members, including Special Tactical Operations, said they “peacefully” dismantled the blockade and moved protestors out of the roadway. Three protestors who failed to comply were arrested for mischief, later released, and are scheduled to appear in court at a later date, they noted.
Houston was then forced to remove MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, who participated in the protest. The step was taken because of her “failure to accept accountability for her actions at the blockade,” Houston said, explaining that she concealed her actions from caucus colleagues, and refused to accept any wrong-doing.
The duality of Houston’s response perfectly summarizes this episode. While the manner in which the province announced changes to New Brunswick travel was clumsy, what was even more awkward was the misguided idea of shutting down the border to protest restrictions.
Whatever their intentions, attempts to erode support for public health restrictions failed miserably, and the protesters earned the ire of a great majority of Nova Scotians awaiting workers, medications, vaccinations, food, and other necessities of life.
In fact, the protest failed so spectacularly, it even managed to elicit support for provincial officials who were rightfully criticized for the lack of consultation on the issue, and the fact the decision was not made the week prior.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Premier is correct; opening fully to New Brunswick after they opened to the rest of Canada, would be akin to opening Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada.
It’s understandable that some people are tired of the restrictions, that people are anxiously awaiting their vaccinations, and that many are nervously eyeing daily numbers hoping that the COVID-19 variants running through other provinces do not return to Nova Scotia.
This is a trying time but this province will not get through it by preventing the flow of goods, services and people.