Premier defends decision to allow seasonal residents to come to P.E.I.
Application process for seasonal residents will be open on June 1
Premier Dennis King is defending the decision to allow seasonal residents into the province, but other Islanders are raising surprise and concern over the move.
King announced on Wednesday that seasonal property owners will be able to start the process to return to P.E.I. beginning on June 1.
Seasonal residents must be pre-approved for travel at the Confederation Bridge and Charlottetown airport — providing travel documents, proof of property ownership, and a written plan of how they will self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive.
It is estimated there are around 2,300 properties owned by seasonal residents who would be eligible to return.
There has been a wave of online comments and a petition is circulating demanding that the province reverse its decision. As of Thursday at 6 p.m. it had close to 1,500 signatures.
Question of priorities
P.E.I.'s leader of the Opposition Peter Bevan-Baker said he was surprised by the government's announcement.
"We have to protect what we have," Bevan-Baker told CBC.
"We have to think first and foremost, and this is not about being unfriendly, it's not about being hostile or unwelcoming, it's about thinking first and foremost about the well-being of the population that lives here, of Islanders."
Bevan-Baker said he has heard from residents and business owners who are concerned too. He said there are still lots of questions and other COVID-related matters to deal with before allowing more people into the province.
"We've created a situation here where people who live elsewhere are able to come and visit and check on their cottages and yet Islanders are still not able to visit and check on their loved ones at long-term care facilities and that, that just strikes me as fundamentally wrong and fundamentally unfair," Bevan-Baker said.
Privilege not a right
"It just seemed like it came out of the blue — that it was too soon for an announcement like that," said Jason MacGregor from Souris, P.E.I.
He wrote an email to the premier to voice his concerns about the announced plan to allow seasonal residents to return this summer.
MacGregor said he returned to P.E.I. at the start of the pandemic and went into the 14 day self-isolation.
"I know for myself, like, all of my family is here. There is that support structure," MacGregor said.
"But if we have people, cottage dwellers coming to P.E.I. without that support structure, it may be more difficult for them to get their groceries and, you know, live in isolation for two weeks."
He said people returning to their second summer home is a privilege and not a right.
"These people aren't forced to come here. It's an option that they have and they could just as well stay at home at their primary residence," MacGregor said.
"So it's a bit of a slap in the face to Islanders who are struggling to get by with one house and have their basic necessities met here and taking care of them but instead we're maybe pandering to people with this privilege who maybe shouldn't be our priority."
Keep moving forward
During a CBC Facebook Live Q&A Thursday, King addressed the criticism. He said the decision was based on the best information the government had and, that the province needs to keep moving forward.
King said part of the process will be to inform those seasonal residents of their responsibilities around self-isolation. The approval process would also determine where the travellers are coming from and where they plan to stay — in this way, the arrivals will be staggered so the system doesn't get overwhelmed.
He said it was important people go through the online approval process before booking travel plans, as they will not be allowed into the province without pre-approval.
P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said during the Q&A that figuring out the right process is important as officials may use it for those who return almost every year to visit family members.
"If someone comes home every summer and spends a summer here to help support their parents or see their parents or grandchildren, those are other people who are connected to P.E.I.," Dr. Morrison said.
It will take some time for public health to process the requests, Morrison said, and some people will not arrive until July or August.
'Members of our family'
King said it was not sustainable or healthy to keep the province locked down for the duration of the pandemic, so the road to recovery must be taken.
"There might be a misunderstanding that these are somehow strangers that don't know anything about P.E.I." King said.
"These are largely our members of our family, member of our community. A large, large portion are Islanders who've moved away, who've stayed connected here so I think it is always good to remember who we are as Islanders and who we are actually talking about allowing to come back to their home."
COVID-19: What you need to know
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More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.
With files from Isabella Zavarise