B.C. district's message for non-residents to 'stay away' is inflammatory, Albertan cabin owner says
'We're just following the public health officer's directions,' says Columbia Shuswap Regional District chair
Messaging from the Shuswap regional district asking non-residents, including property owners who vacation there seasonally, to stay away has rubbed some people the wrong way.
The Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) issued a news release on May 13 asking property owners who don't live in the area full time to stay away for the Victoria Day long weekend.
CSRD chair Kevin Flynn said the message is still the same.
"A staycation is the best vacation right now," Flynn told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.
"Obviously, our seasonal homeowners are a huge part of our communities and a huge part of our economy as are true tourists who come to visit for the short term, but the seasonal homeowners are also being asked to make only essential visits."
He said the CSRD is following the advice of both the provincial and federal health officers and asking people to travel only if necessary to avoid spreading COVID-19. B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have been discouraging travel to tourist communities like Vancouver Island, Sechelt and the Shuswap since the pandemic was declared.
"We have smaller communities with very little health-care support and we don't want to lose all the gains in our dealing with COVID-19 by having too many people come to our community," Flynn said.
"Don't take this message wrong. We're just following the public health officer's directions."
Roger Dunkley, who lives in Alberta but owns a cabin in Shuswap Lake, however, has taken issue with the message to stay away. In fact, he sent a letter to the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce and local businesses telling them how he felt.
Dunkley called the messaging inflammatory and said Albertans are being treated poorly in many parts of British Columbia, so this adds to the feeling of alienation.
"There's been a growing sort of feeling of alienation and that we're kind of underappreciated within the country and that's all, you know, playing into it too," he said.
Finding the balance between keeping their community safe and ensuring the economy stays strong and seasonal residents are kept happy is a difficult balance to strike.
"Our economy is significantly tourism based especially in the summers," Flynn said. "We're asking our lifeblood in the four summer months or three summer months to stay away at this point, so that's very difficult.
But Dunkley said the solution is simple: he will purchase all the supplies he needs in Alberta to ensure he doesn't have to visit shops during his vacation. If he needs something while he's there, he'll ask a neighbour who lives there permanently to pick it up for him.
"We seasonal dwellers, cabin owners should be able to go out to our properties and enjoy them, but we have to do that in a way that presents the absolute lowest risk to the resident population and is sensitive to their needs," he said.
Some people may need to visit seasonal properties to protect them from rising water levels, but whether or not that is considered essential by health officials remains unclear. He said it's not realistic to tell people they can't come to sandbag or do other things to protect their properties.
"I'm not sure that we have any ability to enforce anything," Flynn said. "We're just hoping that people are smart, travel if they have to."
With files from Daybreak Kamloops