Cottage country mayors protest being shut out of business reopening plan

Ontario Premier Doug Ford Photo Credit: FordNation Facebook Page

Premier Doug Ford has chastised the mayors of Norfolk and Haldimand counties after they received haircuts outside of Norfolk Town Hall on Tuesday to protest their counties’ exclusions from Ontario’s stage 2 business reopening plan.

The Ontario government announced on Monday that businesses such as restaurants and salons would be allowed to reopen by the end of the week. Excluded from this list were businesses in the GTA and a number of other areas with high concentrations of COVID-19 cases. On May 31, the Norfolk and Haldimand area experienced an outbreak on a local farm that employs migrant workers where 164 tested positive.

While Ford wasn’t incensed over the mayors’ haircuts, what he took issue with stemmed from when the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit banned cottagers from visiting their properties, threatening them with fines. “They were the same mayors that were shouting and screaming and that is fine. God bless them, but all of a sudden to do 180 like that in a couple weeks as your numbers are going up in your area. I just can’t figure it out,” Ford said during Tuesday’s press conference. “They are the last two mayors in the whole province out of 444 mayors that I would think would be doing this, but this pandemic does strange things to people.”

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Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp was the one who initially suggested the protest to Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt. The haircuts were a show of support for local businesses not legally allowed to open.

In response to Ford’s criticism, Chopp points out that while she and Hewitt enforced the cottager ban, it was not them who issued the order. “It was our Medical Officer of Health,” she says. “There’s no way to overrule him…[He] just codified what the province was asking everybody: to please not go to their cottages.”

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Chopp adds that of the 164 original COVID-19 cases, the area is now down to 15 with many of the migrant workers being repatriated to the farm early next week. “Our community is now being penalized as a result of an outbreak that took place as part of a federal program to ensure food production and security for the country,” she says.

What frustrates Chopp the most about the exclusion, however, is that local businesses can’t capitalize on the influx of visitors to the area as people escape the city. “When a hairdresser sees hundreds of tourists descending into our community on the weekend, how do you explain that they can’t book appointments with PPE on and be able to operate, and make a living, and put food on the table,” she says.

Instead, business owners will have to watch as potential customers drive 15 minutes across the county line to receive services such as a haircut. “My hope is that we will be included soon,” Chopp says. “I don’t think our businesses can last. I think they’re past that critical point.”

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