ROSE BLANCHE – HARBOUR LE COU – A lack of transparency when determining who was granted a travel exemption into the province remains confusing for some residents of the Southwest Coast.
Regis Cornale lives primarily in Ontario but also owns a summer home in Rose Blanche – Harbour Le Cou and therefore pays property taxes in Newfoundland.
“I really think the process could have been handled better,” admits Regis, who is in the process of planning the trip home.
Regis usually arrives in June, and last year didn’t leave until after Guy Fawkes Day. When the travel restrictions were first announced, Regis understood the logic and became resigned to the disappointment of not being able to enjoy an annual summer vacation.
“Coronavirus is not something to play around with,” notes Regis. “But then, when I learned that some of my neighbours had been allowed in, I wondered what had changed.”
Since Regis owned a house to comply with isolation for the mandatory 14 days, and excited by the possibility of coming home after all, Regis applied for a travel exemption on July 21. On Aug. 10 that application was denied and Regis appealed it the next day, but then was left waiting in limbo without so much as simple acknowledgement from the province.
“There were no reasons given for denying my application, so I waited to hear something about my appeal,” says Regis.
After learning neighbours were receiving exemptions, Regis e-mailed the government once again and asked for clarification and if another application needed to be made or the appeal would suffice.
“I received a response directing me to the same websites I had already reviewed, which did not answer my question. So I applied again. And then I learned they wanted evidence I owned property in NL. So I sent a copy of my 2020 property tax bill. I received a response yesterday (Thursday, Aug. 27) directing me again to the websites I had already read.”
Copies of the e-mails between the government and Regis and shared with the Wreckhouse Weekly confirm these exchanges and Regis’s growing frustration with the process. Finally on Friday, Aug. 28 Regis received approval for the travel exemption.
“I felt like I’d won the lottery. Only a lottery would have been less stressful because you know from the beginning that the odds aren’t that great,” says Regis. “It was frustrating to know that some had been allowed in and others denied with no rhyme or reason given. And again, I realize the need for caution. It’s a pandemic. There is a genuine health concern. But I live in a rural area of Ontario – far from any of the hotspots – and I live alone. I have pretty much self-isolated since mid-March, only going out bi-weekly for groceries. And I wore a mask long before it was mandated. I explained all of this in my initial application.”
Inquiries by the Wreckhouse Weekly also failed to solicit any clear explanation as to the logic behind acceptance or denial of applications by out-of-province homeowners in identical situations who applied for travel exemptions. However, it does seem apparent that timing played a factor in Regis receiving an exemption once the province continued to ease restrictions.
“Effective (Monday, August 31), people living outside Atlantic Canada in another Canadian province or territory who own a second home, vacation home or cabin in Newfoundland and Labrador will be allowed to enter the province,” wrote Kathy Dicks-Peyton, Media Relations Manager for the Department of Health and Community Services. “Anyone denied entry to the province prior to the August 31, 2020 change in entry criteria received denials based on the established Public Health entry guidelines at that time.”
Although overjoyed to be returning to Newfoundland, Regis is still feeling confused as to the exact reasons behind the initial rejection.
“If the government had simply advised property owners what they’re doing… for instance, if they wanted to allow just a few of us in at a time, just let us know. If they were using a lottery system, just let us know. It may mean we wouldn’t get in – I am never lucky with lotteries – but at least we’d know there’s some method to their process.”