New Brunswick

Atlantic bubble 'can't come soon enough' for border towns, MLAs say

News of a mid-April reopening of the Atlantic bubble, which will allow residents of the four eastern provinces to travel without having to isolate for 14 days, is a "glimmer of hope" for those living in border communities, says Tantramar-Memramcook MLA Megan Mitton.

Nova Scotia MLA floats idea of a Maritime-wide pandemic strategy to eliminate ongoing border confusion

Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton says it has been confusing for constituents who have to travel across the border to Nova Scotia to navigate two different sets of rules, which are often contradictory. (CBC News file photo)

News of a mid-April reopening of the Atlantic bubble, which will allow residents of the four eastern provinces to travel without having to isolate for 14 days, is a "glimmer of hope" for those living in border communities, says Tantramar-Memramcook MLA Megan Mitton.

"I'd say that the bubble just can't come soon enough for people who are living in my area," she said. "There's so many connections across that border that have just been cut for a lot of the last year."

Across the border in Nova Scotia, Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is calling for a Maritime-wide strategy, so rules at the borders will be consistent for everyone in the region as long as the pandemic lasts.

Nova Scotia MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin says the number of COVID-19 cases in the region doesn't justify the strict border rules that continue to be in place. She believes cases can be controlled while still maintaining a Maritime bubble. (Jean Laroche/CBC News)

"Although each province has done extremely well, we haven't been working together," she said.

"I'd love to see the Maritimes have one public health protocol. That would remove the need for these border closures that have placed really undue hardship on the people that are living in our border communities."

Calls for cross-border consistency, co-operation

Smith-McCrossin said her office has been inundated with calls from people who are suffering as a result of the border closures.

"An example would be people that normally would take care of their elderly parents are being refused to do so, often living only minutes away from each other but on the other side of the border."

Smith-McCrossin said that when case numbers are high, everyone understands the restrictions, but when case counts are low, the strict rules aren't justified.

"It's wearing on people. People are at a breaking point, it's affecting people's mental health and wellness. And many people have had enough."

Anyone crossing the border from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia must pass through a checkpoint and most must self-isolate for 14 days. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Mitton agreed, saying she has heard from people devastated that their surgeries have been cancelled because of the border closures, and from others who have had compassionate care exemptions suddenly revoked.

She hopes there will be more "consistency and more co-operation" across Maritime borders when the new bubble is established.

"We've seen how it's created so much confusion — people in our cross-border communities are trying to navigate two different provincial sets of rules that are often contradicting. I know, especially on the New Brunswick side, the rules have been confusing and they keep changing."

Maritime approach 'makes more sense'

Smith-McCrossin said New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have successfully contained community outbreaks of COVID-19 by implementing rules and restrictions that limit the movement of people in those areas when necessary.

If we took a Maritime approach, there's really no need for anything at our Nova Scotia-New Brunswick borders.- Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, Cumberland North MLA

"That has worked for us each in isolation in our provinces," she said of the approach. "But why don't we do that as a Maritime region? It would certainly make more sense."

Mitton said at times, people in her constituency have told her they would feel safer travelling to Amherst, where there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19, than to Moncton.

With many months to go before the pandemic is behind us, Smith-McCrossin is calling for the Maritime provinces to take one approach immediately.

"There's all kinds of Atlantic Canada agreements where we've worked on things together — whether it's business or tourism or apprenticeship … why don't we do that?"

'New Brunswick does not need to be protected from us'

Both MLAs hope the re-opening of the bubble will go more smoothly than the initial bubble opening in July, 2020 when long-line-ups of people trying to get through check-points led to hours-long waits and raised safety concerns.

"If we took a Maritime approach, there's really no need for anything at our Nova Scotia-New Brunswick borders," said Smith-McCrossin. "As of yesterday [Nova Scotia has] 17 active cases in the entire province of nearly a million people. New Brunswick does not need to be protected from us."

When the Atlantic bubble opened on July 3, 2020, lineups grew throughout the day with long waits to get through checkpoints between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News file photo)

The Nova Scotia MLA said bureaucrats have told her the border restrictions have remained for "optics," saying people think it's protecting them.

"What really protects people during a pandemic is public health measures like masking and keeping your physical distancing, staying home when you're sick, washing your hands, and when there's a community outbreak…restricting areas." 

Both MLAs want border restrictions eased sooner rather than later, and say the current rules are "not necessary" and are causing "undue, unnecessary hardship" on their border-community constituents.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for more than 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

with files from Information Morning Moncton

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