If you got all your news from certain members of Canada’s pundit class, you’d be forgiven for thinking that not being able to visit summer homes is one of the most pressing issues of the pandemic. According to some of the nation’s most established columnists, all of whom are, unsurprisingly, affiliated with Postmedia, those wealthy enough to own summer homes must be afforded the opportunity to enjoy them, advice of public health officials be damned.
Former Postmedia columnist and CTV broadcaster Don Martin, National Post columnists Matt Gurney and Barbara Kay, and the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington, have all sounded the alarm on supposedly draconian restrictions preventing Canadians from accessing their second homes.
Martin, whose career includes a stint at the National Post and Calgary Herald, retired from broadcasting in December, but still writes a regular blog on CTV’s website.
In a May 13 article, Martin decided to let the public know that his inability to take a trip to Prince Edward Island from Ottawa is a violation of his — and your — constitutional rights. The article is ostensibly about tough border restrictions the Maritimes have embraced to combat COVID-19, but in a tweet promoting the article he clarified that this was personal, calling the piece, “My lament on why I can’t go to PEI this year.”
Martin cites section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of mobility between provinces, to lambast the supposed “pandemic paranoia” among Maritime provinces. Yet he concedes that a court has ruled this can be suspended “conceivably, in temporary circumstances, for some local reason as, for example, health.” Martin then asks, “What ‘temporary’ means in that waffled ruling is not defined. Six months? A year? Until there’s a vaccine?”
That ought to depend on the advice of local public health officials, not the whims of the wealthy.
Not to be outdone, National Post comment editor Matt Gurney wrote three separate pieces on cottagers’ rights within a week.
In an April 19 article titled “Strict COVID-19 travel restrictions could prove the tipping point for many Canadians,” Gurney urges restraint on all sides. “Reasonable accommodations are possible,” he says. “Let’s not let the fanatics on both sides, the reckless flouters and the inflexible enforcers, make them impossible.”
Two days later, Gurney wrote an article based on emails he received from readers in response to his previous column, who claimed they were stopped by police while traveling to their secondary residences. “To be clear, I cannot verify that these incidents occurred,” he writes, before acknowledging that the Ontario Provincial Police and the solicitor general have each confirmed that no such order exists. Even if these reports are entirely fabricated, the fact that people are asking these questions is proof that they’re valid, according to Gurney.
And on April 26, an increasingly-frantic Gurney wrote that while there are in fact no orders restricting access to cottages, he’s found a new calling: ensuring access to vacation homes is not blocked by marinas following public health guidelines. “It’s unequal. Those people are de facto blocked from their cottages,” Gurney says in a comically out of touch passage.
On April 21, in the midst of Gurney’s cottagers’ crusade, the National Post published an article by Kay titled “The country house pandemic problem.”
By the second paragraph, Kay makes it clear this column is rooted solely in her personal gripe against her family being unable to travel to their “habitant-style log chalet in a private, woodsy domain on a tiny lake not far from Saint-Sauveur, Que., in the Laurentian mountains.” The problem alluded to in the headline is that while local residents want cottagers to obey health orders and stay home, the Kays really want to access their chalet. A delicate balance.
Kay says this is tolerable while the weather is cold, but once it warms up, vacationers simply won’t be able to help themselves and locals will just have to deal with any potential health consequences.
“Even if they’re not happy, they’ll have to act as though they are, welcoming us with broad smiles and the excellent English all Laurentian francophones acquire by osmosis, because together, we created the monsters of consumerism and convenience some of those towns have become, and monsters have to be fed,” she concludes in a passage perhaps more insightful than intended. Cater to our lavish desires or you’ll starve, because we’re in this together.
For columnists like Kay, this is the natural order of things that can’t be disrupted for too long.
The Toronto Sun’s Warmington also came out swinging in favour of COVID-19 cottaging, with a May 6 piece headlined “Cottage country pulls welcome mat from GTA residents.” In a characteristically-punchy lede, Warmington claims, “Turns out there are two classes of citizens here! Local residents and seasonal cottagers.” Warmington dismisses the advice of public health officials as “short-sighted lunacy,” while demanding a return to normalcy in the midst of a global pandemic.
You can decide which viewpoint is more short-sighted and loony.
As of publication, more than 6,400 Canadians have died from COVID-19. The notion of the wealthy being able to go to their cottages while the rest of us have to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 — mass unemployment, evictions and a looming mental health crisis, among others — is repugnant.
While reactionary columnists are paid to write about their social circles’ minor inconveniences, some workers are being forced to return to their crowded workplaces, despite major outbreaks and the physical impossibility of appropriate social distancing measures.
Workers at the Cargill meat plant in High River, Alta., for example, are being compelled to return to their workplace — where an outbreak has resulted in at least three deaths and 1,500 cases — so they can package meat, ensuring people like the Kays can enjoy barbecue season at their rural villas.
So, in a sense, Warmington is correct that there are two classes of Canadian citizens: those who can afford second homes and those who can’t afford even one. It’s clear which side of that divide Postmedia’s target audience falls under.