Blowing bubbles

Premier Iain Rankin. Photo: Communications NS

A group of influential business leaders and families planning trips over the New Brunswick border to visit their loved ones are upset over the strategy shift announced Tuesday, on the eve of what many expected would mark renewed freedom to travel in the Atlantic provinces after a six-month lockdown.

Instead, anyone traveling from New Brunswick, including Nova Scotians on day trips, will be required to isolate.

Update: On June 24, the government announced that people travelling from New Brunswick will be able to enter Nova Scotia without restriction as of June 30.

Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, warned last week that restrictions could be tighter for New Brunswick after the that province’s surprise move to open its borders to all Canadians, effective immediately, with no isolation or testing required of travellers who have one dose of vaccine.

The move sparked outcry from opposition politicians, triggering illegal blockades of roads near the border. Read more here.

Serial entrepreneur Robert Zed, spokesperson for an alliance of influential business leaders upset over efforts to reboot the economy as a third wave of COVID-19 is stamped out, says Rankin has reneged on the Atlantic Bubble.

“The confusion and lack of clarity is difficult for us to understand,” he says.

The Nova Scotia Business Alliance, a group of more than 110 business elites and others, banded together a couple weeks ago over their frustration about the premier’s re-opening plan.

Rankin seemed to appease the group last week when he announced plans to reopen the Atlantic Bubble a week early and gave a specific date for when other Canadians can come to the province. Editor’s Note: Learn more in this recent Halifax Magazine feature.

But they’re not happy with the modified bubble or Rankin’s failure to offer any details on how Nova Scotia might fit with the plan Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled Monday to lift travel restrictions, effective July 5, for Canadians, permanent residents, and certain foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated. Effective June 30, other Canadians will be allowed to enter the province. They will have to following the same self-isolation rules, depending on vaccine status, the people travelling from New Brunswick must follow under the modified bubble.

“We are not pleased. We are not sitting down,” Zed tells Halifax Magazine. “I cannot keep up with the emails of shock, dismay, and anger with the misjudgment and lack of business sense with this government.”

Robert Zed. Photo: Submitted

He says members of the group wonder why the science-based decisions are more conservative in Nova Scotia compared to other provinces, including New Brunswick.  

Rankin defended the reopening plan in a Tuesday afternoon COVID-19 press briefing.

He says, with two COVID-related deaths announced Tuesday, he’s not prepared to risk more losses “for the sake of opening up one or two weeks early.”

He says one dose of vaccine hasn’t proven effective against the highly contagious Delta variant, so the aim is to get the population that’s 65 and older fully vaccinated with two doses before opening up Nova Scotia’s borders further.

Rankin says he and Strang had many discussions about the New Brunswick border since last week to learn about that province’s border restrictions. His government tried to reach New Brunswick officials last week, but were unsuccessful. A hoped-for call between the four Atlantic premiers to discuss New Brunswick’s different tack failed to materialize.

Rankin says he didn’t notify New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs about the modified bubble.

Under the plan, people travelling from New Brunswick, including Nova Scotians, can enter for any reason. But they will have isolation requirements based on their vaccination status and testing.

Strang echoes Rankin’s concerns about the Delta variant and the need for more time to get Nova Scotians fully vaccinated.

He says 71.4% of Nova Scotia’s population has a first dose, compared to 66.1% for Canada. The aim is to reach 75% by the end of August, which would make Nova Scotia “one of the safest places in the world.”

Zed says the border restrictions undermine the $18 million the province is spending to woo Atlantic Canadian tourists to Nova Scotia.

“The tourism marketing campaign announced last week largely is targeted at New Brunswick,” says Zed. “A week later they blow the bubble up. If that doesn’t show leadership without vision or care for Nova Scotians and the economy, where businesses have been brought to their knees, we do not know what does.”  

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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