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Border rules mean gruelling drive for Quebecers headed to Iles-de-la-Madeleine


MONTREAL — Quebecers hoping to vacation on the Iles-de-la-Madeleine learned this week they will not be able to stop in New Brunswick overnight because of restrictions on interprovincial travel.

The Quebec government had said on June 13 it would be possible to spend one night in New Brunswick en route to the islands, which are part of Quebec and sit in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Quebecers travelling there by car need to go through New Brunswick to catch a ferry from Souris, P.E.I., a drive of at least 500 kilometres from the Quebec border.

But on Wednesday Quebec announced that travellers would not be allowed to overnight in New Brunswick after all.

As of June 26, Quebecers will need to have completed a declaration form agreeing "not to stop in New Brunswick, except to refuel or to obtain food" and "not to stop in Prince Edward Island, except to refuel."

The restrictions have been slammed by municipal and provincial politicians in Quebec, who say they could lead to a loss of tourism and force travellers to travel hundreds of kilometres without the option to stop to sleep.

In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's Public Safety Department said the province had never agreed to allow Quebecers to stay in the province overnight.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, travellers travelling through New Brunswick have been permitted into the province and permitted to stop for food, fuel and personal needs," Coreen Enos said. "Travellers have not been permitted to stay overnight."

But Jonathan Lapierre, the mayor of the Iles-de-la-Madeleine, said he is convinced New Brunswick went back on its word.

He said he learned Quebecers would be allowed to stay in New Brunswick overnight from the Quebec government statement on June 13 and directly from staff in the office of Sonia LeBel, Quebec's minister responsible for Canadian relations.

"Whatever they say (in New Brunswick)," Lapierre said, "I'm convinced they reneged on their word."

The Quebec government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Joel Arseneau, the opposition Parti Quebecois member of the legislature for the Iles-de-la-Madeleine, called on the provincial government to maintain pressure on its neighbour.

He said the provinces could designate specific hotels that Quebecers could use in New Brunswick, and public health protocols could be put in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19.

"People got their hopes up and reservations made, and probably some down payments given as well, and all of a sudden, two days later, they backtrack,” Arseneau said.

"This is not serious for two provincial governments . . . to have this roller-coaster of emotions imposed upon travellers is really not fair."

About 70,000 visitors came to the Iles-de-la-Madeleine last year, Arseneau said, but the area expected to get about half that many this year during the pandemic.

Now, he said travellers "will have to drive all the way through New Brunswick and P.E.I. to get to the ferry . . . which makes for dangerous or not ideal conditions, travelling through the night."

The town of Pointe-a-la-Croix, Que., across a bridge from Campbellton, N.B., is more than 500 kilometres from the ferry terminal in Souris, while Degelis, Que., across the border from Edmundston, N.B., is more than 700 kilometres away.

The five-hour ferry crossing departs from Souris at 2 p.m. every day throughout the summer, Arseneau said.

He added that the journey could take even longer because roadblocks are set up at the border between Quebec and New Brunswick, and at the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick into P.E.I.

"People can't see how they can possibly make it," he said.

Meanwhile, Lapierre said he intends to raise the issue in a meeting Friday with the federal Member of Parliament for the area, Liberal Diane Lebouthillier.

"We won't give up," he said. "The right to travel in this country is a fundamental right, and in my opinion, it cannot be taken away."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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