Due to worries about campground openings expressed by their citizens through calls, contacts and petitions, as well as their own concerns, mayors of the Haut-Saint-Laurent MRC met on Wednesday, June 3. They unanimously passed a resolution, which was sent out to all the mayors and ministries involved, such as tourism, health, public health and municipal affairs. This includes the current MNA, Claire IsaBelle; Premier François Legault; Dr. Horacio Arruda; the director of the Sûreté du Québec in Ormstown; the owners of Lac des Pins; and other authorities, such as the director of the CISSSMO.
The MRC mayors’ resolution was based on one that had already been passed in Ormstown after it was brought to council by that municipality’s mayor, Jacques Lapierre. It cites the provincial government’s decision to open the many large campgrounds in this jurisdiction during an ongoing pandemic; the fact that these are tourist attractions bringing people from a hot zone (Montreal) into a cold one (the Haut-Saint-Laurent); that local infrastructures, especially the small hospital and volunteer first responders, are not able to handle an outbreak, should one occur here. Especially but not exclusively, the resolution notes that campers are required by Camping Quebec to come directly to the campground without stopping, shopping or otherwise making contact with the local community, and to return to their homes for any activities of this nature. It formally requests not only that the campgrounds abide by and be alert to these rules, but in order to reassure the population, that the SQ should “heighten surveillance” to make sure these directions are followed. The SQ is also asked to make sure that any persons found to be in noncompliance be subject to fines.
Douglas Brooks, mayor of Franklin, where there are two large campgrounds, notes, “It is very clear that all campgrounds in Quebec have a social duty to protect both their clientele and the local population. It would be appropriate for the government of Quebec to disseminate this message and follow up accordingly.”
In such a scenario, one might expect the campground owners to feel beleaguered and defensive; but in the case of Lac des Pins, the second largest trailer campground in Quebec, the owners, Paulette Lazure, Nancy Rochefort and Sophie Rochefort, had already undertaken their own attempt to protect both campers and citizens. They drew up a contract and sent it to their clientele, stating that every camper must sign it upon registration. As one of two options, it offers a chance to forgo the 2020 season entirely, with a promise for full credit in 2021. It describes many of the requirements of Camping Quebec’s 24-page deconfinement order, dividing them into 13 sections, such as “Visitors, Restrooms, Construction, Gatherings, Pools” and so on. Many of these provincial requirements sound difficult to perform and even harder to enforce in the atmosphere of families trying to have summer fun; however, the Lac des Pins document states that “measures and guidelines for COVID-19 will have to be respected under penalty of expulsion, obviously for the good of all.”
The section of this contract that is probably of greatest interest to the full-time residents of this MRC says: “According to public health recommendations, you must do your shopping in your municipality before arriving at the campground. Therefore, you should not go to hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, banks and other stores in the area.” The one grocery store across from the site is available to campers, also for trailer home delivery. The Lac des Pins document ends with this statement, in bold: “Failure to comply with the above measures and guidelines will result in immediate expulsion and termination of the contract for the 2020 season.”
After a meeting with Lac des Pins owners Sophie and Nancy Rochefort on June 2, Mayor Douglas Brooks says, “We felt that this was the kind of attitude we’d like all campgrounds to adopt.” He notes that although Ormstown’s resolution specifically mentions Lac des Pins because of its size, “we have to remember there’s another eight campgrounds spread out over the totality of the MRC.”
Louise Lebrun, the prefect of the MRC and mayor of Sainte-Barbe, suggests, “the mayors of the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent have expressed their concerns about the opening of the Lac des Pins campground because we fear a spread of the virus within our communities.” The council of mayors unanimously passed a resolution that incorporates that of Ormstown and suggests that all of the campgrounds found within its territory be presented with a copy of the social contract drawn up by Lac des Pins to be used as a model for managing their own sites. Put forward by Brooks, the motion was supported by Denis Henderson, mayor of Havelock.
Brooks noted that the municipality has received a letter from Franklin’s volunteer first responders, “which states that they will not respond to calls from the campgrounds this summer.” He has informed the owners of Lac des Pins that only other ambulance services will be available to the campers. This means that at least Franklin’s local responders will be safer and that they will not be possibly carrying contagion from calls at the campgrounds into the community, a move that he hopes other municipalities will adopt.
Although this is all good news in many ways, the elephant in the room remains testing and contact tracing. Jurisdictions that have managed to gain control over this first wave of the pandemic and are becoming well prepared for the second, all use not just social distancing, disinfection and masks, but very extensive testing and meticulous contact tracing. As yet, because there is limited local testing, we don’t know what may have caused the recent significant uptick in COVID-19 cases in Franklin, Saint-Chrysostome and Huntingdon. Nancy Rochefort, one of the owners of Lac des Pins, would also like the province to do more testing and help businesses adapt to their complex and costly protocols. She says, “About half our clients have already decided not to come.” The campground reopened this past weekend, but Rochefort won’t know complete numbers until late June, as clients have been given time to decide. She says Lac des Pins undertook the unusual step of a formal contract, so as to warn clients how constrained the rules will be. “We understand,” she says, “why local citizens do not want them shopping in the area,” but the campers are also people stuck in small apartments “who really just want a little freedom and air.” She says that so far her clients “are acting as if they will follow these rules, they’re so grateful to come at all. We’re stressed too: all our resources and employees will be stretched, but we will really, really try. If there is the slightest thing we will expel them, that’s sure. “
Mayor Brooks was asked if testing of incoming tourists as they arrive might be possible. Unfortunately, “that’s a provincial jurisdiction and they would need to do it.” He adds, “Any focus of anger shouldn’t be on the local authorities and the local campgrounds, but on the province. We’re just dealing with their decision to open as best we can, to make everybody as safe as possible here.”