Last week the NCC announced that it would be reopening the Gatineau Park to pedestrians and cyclists on Saturday, May 9, 2020. The park had been closed since March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initial media reports quoted the NCC as saying that the park would be reopened for “users who can access the park on foot or by bike.” Simple enough; if you’re on a bike, you can go in. As an added bonus, the park’s road were going to be car free. All this was great news for the huge number of local cyclist who like to use the Gatineau Park for training rides.
But it’s not going to be that simple. Within a day of the initial announcement, there was a slight shift in the message, and it became that the park would only be open to Quebecers who can reach it by bike or foot.
The NCC claims that it arrived at this decision with the support of the municipalities surrounding the Gatineau Park. This seems to suggest that these municipalities are saying that we agree the park should reopen, but only for us, and not for anyone else. Hardly a position devoid of self-interest.
In defending its decision about allowing only Quebecers into the park, the NCC claims its hands are tied because the local Quebec border is, for the most part, closed to people coming in from Ontario. But the NCC’s decision reinforces Quebec’s efforts to keep its border largely closed to Ontarians. It gives police at border check points added grounds for turning around Ottawa cyclists who may be heading to the Gatineau Park.
This issue also raises the larger question of why is Quebec basically keeping its border closed to people from Ontario. As of today Quebec has started to dismantle its internal travel restrictions, and police check points are coming down across the province. The one exception is the border in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. The restrictions here are going to stay in place until further notice, or indefinitely.
The mayor of Gatineau used the emotive argument that if it saves just one grandmother, he supports keeping the border restrictions in place. He also says people on his side of the border have to protect themselves because Ottawa is a “hot zone” for COVID -19, while the Outaouais is a “cold zone”.
It’s very misleading to label Ottawa in this manner, which evokes images of what happened in northern Italy and New York City. First of all, Ottawa is no where close to being overwhelmed by COVID-19. Moreover, at the provincial level, there are far more cases of COVID-19 in Quebec than Ontario, especially on a per capita basis. While it is true that proportionally, there are more cases in Ottawa than Gatineau, the difference hardly warrants the type of labeling used by Gatineau’s mayor.
Quebec’s decision to maintain restrictions on travel from Ottawa to Gatineau it starting to annoy quite a few people, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. He has made his frustrations with the situation known to Gatineau’s mayor, but he quite rightly resisted the idea of using police check points to restrict the travel of Quebecers into Ottawa.
How all of this plays out remains to be seen. However, it likely means that the Gatineau Park will officially be off limits for Ottawa cyclists for the foreseeable future.