New Brunswick may let in out-of-province cottage owners by midsummer

Premier Blaine Higgs says Quebecers who have second homes or cottages in the province may be allowed to travel to his nearly COVID-free province by sometime in July, depending on public health conditions in the coming weeks.

Premier Blaine Higgs says he's open 'to making changes in the coming months' if Quebec situation improves

Compliance officers check vehicles at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border near Amherst on Sunday, April 5, 2020. Provincial staff stop and question anyone entering the province as part of the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says Quebecers and residents of other provinces who own property in his province may eventually be allowed to travel there this summer — depending on public health conditions in the coming weeks.

Higgs imposed strict travel restrictions in March to limit movement within New Brunswick in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have only been 120 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick and not a single death — making it one of only two provinces in Canada, along with Prince Edward Island, that hasn't lost any citizens to the virus.

By comparison, Quebec now has 40,724 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 3,351 Quebecers have died.

In an interview on CBC's Quebec AM, Higgs said because New Brunswick hasn't had the same exposure to the coronavirus as Quebec has, it is still not ready to let in Quebec residents. 

As the province does a phased reopening of its economy, however, Higgs said, he isn't ruling out the possibility of allowing in out-of-province travellers later in the summer.  

"I don't want to put a timeline limit on it at this stage," Higgs said. "It just depends how things go over the coming weeks."

Higgs said property owners, who after all are taxpayers in New Brunswick, have contacted him, some arguing that they're prepared to self-isolate if they're allowed in. But it's still too soon to allow that to happen, he said. 

He said some people in New Brunswick are not even comfortable with the idea of people moving around within the province.

"We initially had people that didn't want other New Brunswickers to travel into their community because they were concerned about, you know, having an outbreak," he said.

Higgs said before opening the borders, he needs to evaluate how the province's own reopening process plays out and how the number of cases fluctuate in other provinces in the coming weeks. He's hoping public health officials have enough information to make that call by "some time in July."

"I don't want to write off the summer for our friends and neighbours."

There are two active cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. (CBC News)

Travel corridor to Magdalen Islands

Higgs said he is also open to the idea of negotiating the opening of a travel corridor to allow Quebecers to get to the Magdalen Islands.

Right now, islanders are able to drive through New Brunswick to get to P.E.I. and then take the ferry to the archipelago, but they are asked not to stop along the way.

The Parti Québécois MP for the archipelago, Joël Arseneau, sent a letter to Premier François Legault on Wednesday asking that the government come to an agreement with its neighbour to make sure that right-of-way is maintained.

He said there could be designated rest areas where people could stop to get gas and food.

Red cliffs near a body of water.
The Magdalen Islands rely heavily on two economic pillars — fisheries and tourism, said the PQ MNA for the region, Joël Arseneau. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

"We're in a unprecedented crisis, and I think we've got to work out solutions," said Arseneau.

On average, 80,000 people visit the archipelago every year, said Arseneau, and 80 per cent of them drive through New Brunswick to take a ferry from Souris, P.E.I.

He suggested the CTMA Vacancier, the vessel that normally offers cruises from Montreal to the Magdalen Islands, could be used as an additional ferry service from the Gaspé.

As Quebec gradually reopens some of its tourism activities, Arseneau said, it's important that the Magdalen Islands don't miss out on that economic revival.

With $90 million in tourism revenues and 1,500 jobs on the line, Arseneau said, not having road access through the Maritimes would mean "being $90 million in the hole, and we just don't know how we're going to survive the next year."

With files from Quebec AM, Breakaway and Jacques Poitras

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