AMHERST, N.S. – Cumberland North’s MLA wants the Maritime premiers to pay more than lip service to the concept of a regional bubble during the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking to Amherst town council’s June committee-of-the-whole meeting on Zoom on Monday, June 15, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said she has written several letters to the three Maritime premiers without response.
“We need to have a Maritime approach to this pandemic, and we need to open our borders,” Smith-McCrossin said. “It is by far the most significant issue that’s on my desk every day and has been since March 22.”
The MLA is asking Amherst to lobby Nova Scotia’s premier and suggested Mayor Dave Kogon call Premier Stephen McNeil to offer his support for a regional travel budget within either the Maritimes or the Atlantic region.
Last week, the premier said he is open to an Atlantic bubble, but no date will be put on it until Nova Scotia’s numbers are low and cases in other provinces remain low. He said the priority will be on lifting restrictions within this province, including expanding the family bubble.
Smith-McCrossin said the situation in Cumberland County is unique in how it is tied to New Brunswick socially and economically.
The continued closure of the border is having a huge impact on her constituents. She told council the border is the biggest issue she is facing with people from all walks of life calling her office every day asking for help or venting their frustrations at the difficulty getting across the border into New Brunswick.
“I have grandmothers sobbing to me on the phone because they haven’t seen their grandchildren since February, before all this began,” she said. “It’s also angry business owners who don’t have their customer base because of the border restrictions.”
The state of emergency was declared in Nova Scotia on March 22 and New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island followed with their own. She said the measures have split families, made things difficult for essential workers travelling back and forth to jobs on both sides of the border and resulted in Cumberland County businesses losing a significant amount of business.
She said no one is being restricted from entering Nova Scotia. Instead, they are told they have to self-isolate. If they are an essential worker they can cross daily without having to isolate – although they are expected to go directly to and from work and cannot stop for groceries or other items.
Nova Scotia, she told council, is doing nothing for contact tracing. There is no recording of licence plates or people entering the province, making it difficult to hold people accountable for not self-isolating because there is no record of when they entered.
“New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are at the other end of the spectrum and a lot of our citizens in Cumberland County are being denied entry into New Brunswick,” the MLA said.
She said there are business people unable to go to their own businesses in New Brunswick and farmers unable to take fertilizer from one piece of land in Nova Scotia to another piece of land across the border.
Smith-McCrossin said she has written letters to New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and P.E.I. Premier Dennis King, along with Premier McNeil. She has also written the Prime Minister’s Office and Cumberland-Colchester MP Lenore Zann.
As well, the Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce and the Cumberland Business Connector have been asking for a Cumberland/Tantramar (Zone 1) bubble since April with no response.
The MLA told council people were supportive of the restrictions at first, when there was a lot of uncertainty and fear about the virus. She understands the pressure the premier and chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang have been under, but she believes it’s time to take another look at things and she’s frustrated that she is being ignored.
When the Nova Scotia legislature resumes, she wants something put in legislation preventing this from happening again and she wants others to add their voices to hers.
“We have all done our part and we have flattened the curve,” she said. “We know the virus is still active and we need people to take all the precautions. Whether we do this in Amherst or in our neighbouring provinces it’s still effective. The border really doesn’t change anything.”
Darrell Cole Amherst News
Published: Jun 15 at 10:47 p.m.