Nova Scotia erects border blockade with New Brunswick, sparking protests

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Protesters block the road during a protest on Highway 104 in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia on June 23, 2021. Traffic was halted Wednesday along the Trans-Canada Highway at the Nova Scotia border. Scotland with New Brunswick as protest continued against COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Riley Smith / The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin’s surprise decision to kick New Brunswick out of the Atlantic Bubble travel deal deepened political divisions over plans to reopen and prompted protesters to close the Trans-Canada Highway connecting the two provinces.

The four Atlantic provinces were to allow residents to travel freely in the region from Wednesday, without the need for quarantine – a restoration of the Atlantic bubble that burst last fall amid COVID cases – 19 were increasing. Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the provincial borders reopened, Rankin announced that his province would exclude New Brunswick.

The premier of Nova Scotia said New Brunswick’s decision last week to open the door to partially vaccinated travelers from other parts of Canada put his province at undue risk. Outrage was immediate from people on both sides of the provincial border who had scheduled meetings after being separated by interprovincial travel restrictions since last November.

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“He left thousands of people in a bind. I was excited and ready to go. It’s so devastating, ”said Deborah Wiggins of Fredericton, who had hoped to travel to Nova Scotia on Wednesday to visit her family, including her brother-in-law, who is dying of cancer.

“They don’t do that for people anymore. It is about power and demagoguery and two prime ministers who do not cooperate. “

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reported zero new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. In a briefing the day before, Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, said restrictions for New Brunswick travelers would likely be reassessed next week.

The four Atlantic premiers spoke Wednesday evening, although no resolution was immediately made public. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said his province’s plans to reopen were clear in May, when New Brunswick announced it would ease travel restrictions once it partially immunizes 75 percent of its population and fully immunized 20 percent of people 65 years of age or older.

“We will all be adults in the room,” the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party told reporters ahead of the meeting. “I am confident that once they understand what we are doing… we can solve all the problems and bring our friends and neighbors together on both sides of the border. “

For Mr. Rankin, the liberal rookie The Prime Minister is considering an election in the coming months, it has become his most difficult political decision to date. He called New Brunswick’s decision to go ahead with its plan to reopen “regrettable” and said it had to protect Nova Scotians. His province has just fought off a third wave that has closed schools and businesses.

“We have to put safety first, and I’m not going to take any chances,” he said.

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Hours after the announcement, protesters closed traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway that connects the two provinces, blocking long lines of transport trucks with minivans and sedans parked by the side of the road. The RCMP began arresting protesters on Wednesday evening in an effort to clear traffic that had been paralyzed for more than 24 hours.

“This is probably the most unpopular moment in terms of government guidelines since we had our first case of COVID over a year and a half ago,” said JP Lewis, professor of political science at the University. from New Brunswick to Saint John.

New Brunswick’s decision to partially reopen to the rest of Canada ahead of its Atlantic counterparts comes as relations between the two premiers appear to be at an all-time low, Professor Lewis said. Mr Rankin, who publicly criticized Higgs last week, said he did not speak to the Premier of New Brunswick before his decision and said his calls for a meeting were not returned last week.

Professor Lewis said he wondered whether the travel restrictions that prevented prime ministers from meeting in person allowed smaller disagreements to develop. Mr Rankin, a 37-year-old politician trying to position himself as a new kind of progressive leader, has yet to speak face-to-face with Mr Higgs, a 67-year-old former oil leader and fiscal conservative who has won a PC majority last September.

“You must be wondering if the Premiers had been able to meet in person, would things have gone much easier than that?” Said Mr. Lewis. “Residents of both provinces should be concerned that their premiers don’t seem to be able to connect. “

Nova Scotia’s last-minute decision also drew a strong reaction from the tourism industry. Many New Brunswick residents had booked hotels in Nova Scotia in hopes of easing travel restrictions. The new rules mean that anyone traveling from New Brunswick will still have to self-isolate for up to two weeks and get tested, even if they are fully vaccinated, while those coming from Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador do not have to.

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New Brunswickers are free to travel to Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland without restrictions.

“Premier Rankin’s 11-hour decision to cut our industry to its knees on the cusp of an already shrinking summer season is simply unacceptable,” the Nova Scotia Hotel Association said in a statement. “The goal throughout the pandemic was to flatten the curve and protect Nova Scotians. … The goal now should not be to cripple the economy with the most restrictive border controls in the country, if not the continent. “

Kevin Wilson, a Halifax-based epidemiologist, argues that there is room for compromise, suggesting that Nova Scotia could simply test unvaccinated New Brunswickers at points of entry and give those who received two doses the same travel benefits as other Atlantic Canadians.

Mr Higgs, who said he had not been warned by Mr Rankin that New Brunswickers would be excluded from the travel deal, said he did not intend to linger on “spilled milk” and expects the two provinces to be able to resolve their problem. differences for the good of the whole region.

“I am convinced that we will have a return from the Atlantic bubble, and I hope we will have it soon,” he said. “Once we’re back in the bubble, we’ll put it all behind us. “

Nova Scotia will join Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador in a joint opening made possible by the steadily declining rates of COVID-19 in the region. The move means travelers won’t have to self-isolate for 14 days upon entering each province. The Canadian Press

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