Traditionally – as the Victoria Day long weekend looms – I use this space to welcome back our cottagers.
I usually write a feel-good piece about their importance to Haliburton County and its economy.
This year, as we all know, is different.
Some cottagers have been here for a couple of months, riding out COVID-19. Others have been coming intermittently. Some haven’t come at all. However, we can assume that some will make their first trip back this coming weekend. After all, Premier Doug Ford and this County’s mayors and warden have said it is ok for them to spend the weekend at the lake.
As those mayors and the warden pointed out in last week’s Highlander, there are no laws preventing cottagers from coming amid COVID-19. The province, under its emergency powers, does have the power of “regulating or prohibiting travel or movement to, from or within any specified area” but obviously hasn’t to date, and won’t in future barring some unforeseen horrendous spike in COVID-19 cases. Nor is the federal government likely to invoke something such as the War Measures Act.
So, cottagers are here, here and there, and coming. To date, we have seen our community really struggle with this. We have witnessed an unfortunate divide between so-called permanent and seasonal residents. We have all been witness to the letters to the editors and the social media back-and-forth on this issue. It’s been nothing short of ugly. That is regrettable.
So, as I sit to write this column, I know if I welcome back cottagers, there will be a backlash. Similarly, if I ask cottagers to stay away, there will be repercussions. Like the mayors, I could err on the side of caution – or politics – and say ‘come, but bring everything you need, stay put, don’t go within six feet of anyone who is not within your immediate family, don’t have a fire’.
Some in the community would urge me to call on the province to evoke its emergency orders and close the highways to cottagers. Others would have me say ‘let them come, let them put in their boats, let them mix and mingle and have a bonfire. What’s the harm?’
The truth is I am torn.
I have felt better about the pandemic situation the last couple of weeks as restrictions have eased. In my work, and for personal reasons, I have been out and about more in the past fortnight. I’m encouraged by the reports I am hearing from our health service providers. They aren’t being overwhelmed with cases. The best-case scenarios are playing out. I am encouraged to see our businesses being allowed to reopen, albeit with restrictions. I am trying to shop local. I’d like to see the cottagers be able to do that too.
However, one of my interviews for this week’s paper is a local GP. He said he’s not convinced that COVID-19 has peaked in the province. He is also concerned that we have developed little community immunity to the coronavirus because we have had so few cases. He is worried about a large influx of people and how the easing of restrictions will play out over the next two to four weeks.
Like all things with this pandemic, we simply don’t know. All we can ask is that all people, whether they live here all of the time, or just some of the time, follow public health protocols and government decision-making to the letter. This applies whether you live on a property in Haliburton County, a condominium in downtown Toronto, or are coming to a cabin on the lake in the woods. Because despite all of the rhetoric, I truly do believe that we are in this together.