As It Happens

These French islands off Newfoundland want to join the Atlantic Bubble 

The people of St-Pierre-Miquelon are starting to get cabin fever, says a resident of the French islands.

St-Pierre-Miquelon, a French territory of 6,000, says a shared border would boost tourism

St-Pierre-Miquelon, a French territory off the coast of Newfoundland, is home to 6,000 people. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

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The people of St-Pierre-Miquelon are starting to get cabin fever, says a resident of the French islands.

St-Pierre-Miquelon is a French territory with 6,000 inhabitants off the coast of Newfoundland. Since the pandemic began, folks there have not been allowed to travel to France without special dispensation from the government. Nor have they been able to visit their closest geographical neighbours in Canada. 

Now the islands are asking to join the latest iteration of Atlantic Bubble in an effort to boost tourism and give people a little more room to roam. 

"The islands are very, very small," Frederic Dotte, a reporter for France 24 who lives in St-Pierre-Miquelon, told As It Happens host Carol Off. "We need right now to go out."

'We are COVID-free'

The last Atlantic bubble was open from July through November in 2020, and helped keep tourism afloat in Atlantic Canada when COVID-19 caseloads were low. People in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. were able to travel across the four provincial borders without having to self-isolate.

The bubble is tentatively scheduled to open up again on or before April 19.  And this time, the French islands want in.

Bernard Briand, president of St. Pierre-Miquelon's territorial council, has penned a letter asking for the prefecture's inclusion. Over half of St. Pierre-Miquelon's eligible population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the territory's government.

"We are COVID-free since last February," Dotte said. "We live something like normally right now without the masks and the restaurants are opened and the bars, too."

The island of Newfoundland is St-Pierre-Miquelon's closest geographical neighbour, and there are many ties that bind the two populations. (Google Maps)

Being barred from Newfoundland has been difficult for the population of 6,000, Dotte said.

Many people have connections to the province, whether it be family or property. Before the pandemic, it was common for people to travel to Newfoundland regularly to visit or shop. 

What's more, many businesses in St-Pierre-Miquelon depend on Canadian visitors.

"Me personally, as a tour guide operator, I'm realizing that it's a big, big loss for me and also it's a big, big loss for the ones who work with me," St-Pierre-Miquelon resident Steve Le Bars, owner of Frenchi's Tours, told the Telegram newspaper

"I think it's about time for us to be able to go back and forth."

But it's not as simple as getting the green light from the Atlantic provinces.

"As part of the country of France, St. Pierre et Miquelon is subject to the federal government's travel guidance," N.L. Premier Andrew Furey said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"Our province looks forward to welcoming visitors as soon as it is safe to do so, after discussions with the appropriate levels of government."

The federal government, meanwhile, gave no indication it's interested in opening the border.

"Any decision to ease or modify border measures in Canada, including changes to quarantine requirements, easing restrictions for certain cohorts of travellers or implementing potential travel corridors with other countries or jurisdictions, will be based on scientific evidence and an assessment of domestic and international public health measures, and will be made in consultation with provincial, territorial and international governments," Anne Génier, a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, said in a statement.

That doesn't leave Dotte feeling very hopeful. 

"If we talked with Newfoundland or even with the four provinces, the Atlantic provinces, probably we would have a result. But with France and Canada, it's another story," he said. "I'm not sure we can achieve this."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. Interview with Frederic Dotte produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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