Some national parks partially reopening in June: PM

Tulips begin to bloom as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to questions from the media during a daily briefing in Ottawa, Friday May 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS-Adrian Wyld
By Rachel Aiello, CTV

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that some national parks will be partially reopening at the beginning of June so people can access trails and other green spaces where physical distancing can still be practiced.

This initial plan to gradually reopen national parks and heritage sites in the coming weeks will come with the implementation of new public health measures to protect visitors, as Trudeau said “getting fresh air is important, but we all have to be responsible about it.” 

The prime minister said the decision around which parks will be reopening will be made in line with the current severity of COVID-19 cases in the region, while also considering their proximity to Indigenous communities.

“We know that this pandemic has hit very differently across the country and therefore, there will be different phases or different steps in reopening of national parks across the country. We will try and align with the local jurisdiction, what provincial parks nearby are going to be doing so that it is clear for people in terms of what they can do in their own particular region,” he said. 

Canada’s more than 200 national parks, historic sites, heritage canals and national marine conservation areas have been closed since mid-March, when vehicle access was suspended and visitor centres shut down in an effort to avoid Canadians flocking to these locations. 

In mid-April Parks Canada said there will be no camping or group activities at all national parks across the country until at least June 1. Camping in national parks will continue to be prohibited for now.  

Now, as slowly more and more aspects of life and business begin to reopen and emerge from stay-home orders as the novel coronavirus curve continues to flatten, it appears the federal government is ready to loosen up the prohibitions of visiting what are typically tourist hotspots. 

“This isn’t forever. Canadians have been doing the right things these past many weeks,” Trudeau said. “And we have to be prepared to keep making adjustments as needed.”

Though, with no indication of lessening international travel restrictions, the Canada-U.S. border looking likely to remain closed for at least another month, and hesitation in some provinces to welcome visitors from other regions of the country, Trudeau faced questions about what Canadians should consider for summer outings.

In response Trudeau said it’s still hard to predict what the reality of the pandemic will be in the weeks ahead and how that will shape the summer season.

Referencing the coming May long weekend, Trudeau said he knows it will be difficult to not celebrate or spend the same kind of outdoor time as usual.

“We know Canadians are making extraordinary sacrifices through this difficult time ,” Trudeau said, speaking more broadly.

NEW BOATING RULES, FISHERIES FUNDING 

The prime minister announced that in addition to the parks changes, new regulations on boating are going to be imposed as of June 1 in the North. Specifically, no pleasure craft will be permitted to operate in Canada’s Arctic coastal waters, or in the coastal areas of northern Quebec and Labrador, with boats used for essential fishing and hunting exempted.

Trudeau also used his daily address to announce new COVID-19 supports for the fisheries industry which is facing decreased demand and increased economic pressure, as “you can’t harvest lobster from inside your house,” as Trudeau put it.

The further support includes $470 million to support fish harvesters including a new benefit to cover 75 per cent of losses up to $10,000 if their income drop this season is at least 25 per cent. As well, they are being offered non-repayable grants of up to $10,000 for fish harvesting business owners and changes to next year’s Employment Insurance rules.

Trudeau encouraged Canadians to help support their local food sectors, suggesting buying lobster or having a fish fry. 

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