It’s Good Friday and for many families, this would be a time when they might start to make the trek out of town or get ready to host people for the Easter Weekend. For some, that might normally involve going to see family and for others, that might involve going out to their cottage or camp for the first time this year to get away from it all. It’s rare that we get a four-day long weekend, so this would normally be a natural point for people to take advantage to get away and get together with those who they miss.

But as we well know now, these are far from being normal times. If the news and events of this week made anything clear, it’s that “normal” won’t be coming back anytime soon. As we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday, until a vaccine for Covid-19 is developed, we’ll have to adjust ourselves and live some form of this “new normal” for a while. It’s not easy to hear, but it’s the truth.

While most people have taken that truth to heart and are acting accordingly, there still are others who simply aren’t. They’re proceeding as if nothing was wrong, and are deciding to treat this Easter Weekend like any other, getting out of the city and going to their summer homes, which is putting lots of people at risk. Being from Kenora, an area where many folks from the central US and Manitoba have summer homes and vacation in, those annual visitors are a huge part of our local economy. But in these times, they also pose a big risk. That’s lead to something unique happen, that speaks to the dangers of this time and those who still decide to ignore them and put others at risk:

Yes folks, we’re seeing political leaders from across the board, from the Premier of Ontario, to First Nations leaders, right down to local municipal leaders, telling our friends and neighbours from Manitoba to stay home. For those municipal leaders, it’s especially stark to hear them say it given the role that those summer visitors play in their local economies. For example, to see Councilor Andrew Nisly from Sioux Narrows – Nestor Falls pleading with people from Manitoba to stay home spoke volumes to me. Sioux Narrows & Nestor Falls are two very small places in the region that are highly dependent on the tourism economy on Lake of the Woods and on folks from Manitoba who own summer properties all over their municipality. They know that importance and know that thanks to Covid-19, the summer of 2020 promises to be a painful one for the economy in their community.

And yet, even with that, they are telling people to stay the heck home. They know that they are going to be hurt even more economically by telling those people to stay away, yet they are doing it because they know that the risks that come with those visitors are even higher. If there is anything that I’ve seen online in the past couple of weeks that should drive this point home, about the specific dangers that communities in Northwestern Ontario’s “Sunset Country” face, it was a Tweet from TVO’s Jon Thompson. He was sharing a local CBC story about this issue and he highlighted a few stats that leapt off the screen and spoke to what folks in that region are facing:

Let that sink in folks. According to that CBC Manitoba piece published on March 30th, almost two weeks ago, Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora was facing the following issues:

  • Five Kenora doctors are in isolation with flu-like symptoms
  • Usual backfill doctors from southern Ontario who would normally come and pick up shifts are working at their regular hospitals or are in quarantine themselves.
  • Kenora hospital only has four ICU beds
  • Hospital was talking to military & Doctors Without Borders to find help

Yes folks, they were having to reach out to “Doctors Without Borders” trying to find help to keep their hospital going. In Canada, in 2020. Unlike most urban areas of Canada, rural and Northern regions like Northwestern Ontario have long struggled with keeping their health care systems going. Often under-funded and overburdened, we’ve seen communities in Northwestern Ontario try to do a lot more with usually a lot less than their southern counterparts. Having to travel hundreds of kilometres to get access to some basic health care services is normal, in a region where there is no regional transport options and already high costs. And in First Nations communities in the region, the situation is even worse.

At the best of times, health care in Northwestern Ontario is limping trying to get by and these are far from the best of times. So the last thing that the cities, towns, First Nations and villages of Northwestern Ontario need is an influx of folks from Manitoba who will likely put even more strain on an already overwhelmed and overburdened health care system. We don’t need to see hundreds and thousands of people flooding into the region trying to “get away from it all” in these dark times and in the process putting tens of thousands of people in the region that call it home at far greater risk. We just don’t need it, we don’t.

What we need is for our friends from across the border to act like the friends we like to think they are. It’s time for them to think about others and to put their own wants aside. By seeking out their “wants” in Northwestern Ontario right now, they are putting the simplest of “needs” of those who call the region home at serious risk. So please damnit, stay the heck home! We’ll be happy to have you back and see you when this all passes but please, for the love of everything holy on this Easter Weekend, stay home in Friendly Manitoba. Because if you’re going out to your cottage right now, you’re really taking a totally selfish act that is putting those who you spend weeks of the year around at serious danger. True friends and neighbours don’t do that to each other so please Manitoba, remain friendly from a safe distance and enjoy your Easter Weekend at home.