The announcement last week by the provincial government that campgrounds would be released from their coronavirus confinement on June 1 unleashed a furious reaction from all of the normally tranquil corners of the Chateauguay Valley. More than 2500 signatures to an online petition (10 per cent of the region’s population!) was testament to the area’s anxiety over the impending invasion of Montrealers desperately seeking their own escape from 10 weeks of lockdown.
Is such a reaction justified? Absolutely, and for two main reasons.
Firstly, few in Quebec’s largest city seem to appreciate that they are still one of the world’s hottest COVID-19 hotspots. On a per capita basis, Quebec is number two in the world, only a handful of coronavirus infections behind number one, Spain, and well ahead of number three, the United States. Most of Quebec’s cases are located in the Greater Montreal Area – not in the surrounding countryside – and the countryside is in great fear of an uncontrolled influx of carefree day trippers in the mood for a long overdue party.
Secondly, the anxiety is not about campgrounds per se, it’s about one in particular – Lac des Pins. The second-largest trailer campground in Quebec, in normal summers it can swell to 10,000 visitors on weekends, tripling the combined population of Franklin and Ormstown overnight. While there are definite economic benefits that spin off from the presence of such a holiday camp (let’s be frank – people don’t go there to ‘camp’ in the traditional sense), there’s also a price to be paid: the poor Barrie Memorial Hospital gets swamped on weekends and the volunteer first responders are at times stretched to the limit. Some touristic moderation, even before COVID-19, has been in order for some time.
Solutions? Enforcement and equity.
There is a need for a firm hand in this staged process of deconfinement; one only has to observe the motorbike and cyclist day trippers in the Tim Hortons and IGA parking lots in Ormstown to see that even social distancing is not being respected. For campgrounds, the one-size-fits-all guidelines need to be changed to reflect the ampleur of the location. On weekends, Lac des Pins is not just a campground, it is a town unto itself, even at reduced capacity. The guidelines need to be rules supported by measures to make sure they are followed. One does not want to think of the consequences that will arise from all the locals who will be working at such sites and then returning to their homes if the rules to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 are not enforced.
The biggest beneficiaries from the reopening of campgrounds are the campgrounds themselves, a privileged status ahead of many other local businesses in the area. Campgrounds therefore have a responsibility to make an equitable and commensurate contribution to the costs associated with welcoming visitors from away. There will be incidents at campgrounds, even at decreased capacity, that will require intervention by public services, and the operators of these enterprises should be prepared to support special measures (extra security, ambulances back to Montreal rather than to the Barrie, etc.) so that local resources don’t become overextended.
If campers aren’t going to stay at home, then they have a responsibility to make sure others can stay safe.