Phil Harding doesn’t want people from the Greater Toronto Area to start packing and head north to their cottages. The Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor wants everybody to heed the advice of health authorities and stay home.
But in a municipality where 85 per cent of the residents are seasonal, Harding does not want to play off cottagers against locals.
“We are a community. I don’t want to use seasonal vs permanent descriptors. We should all be one.”
Harding was responding to comments made by Premier Doug Ford last week telling city dwellers not to head to their cottages to catch a break from COVID-19.
At the time, Ford said he had heard from a number of mayors throughout cottage country who are worried that an influx of visitors from the city will put an additional strain on the hospital and healthcare facilities in the region.
Harding said the reality is there are a number of seasonal residents in Muskoka already and some have come up through the winter and some are staying here at this point.
He does urge cottagers who have not come north to stay where they are and to respect the messaging from health authorities, noting a number of cottagers still can’t access their properties because of location, either boat access or roads are impassable due to snow, while still others don’t have any heat.
He doesn’t deny there was an influx of people to the area during the March break who did some extra shopping. Harding said that was compounded by the hoarding that was taking place across the province, not just by cottagers.
“Everybody across the province decided to hoard food. Wherever you were people were filling up shopping carts. The GTA, Muskoka, North Bay and elsewhere.”
This past weekend Harding sat outside a grocery store in Port Carling to observe the traffic to see if there was anything unusual. He found nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the amount of shoppers and noted groceries were also being called in and later loaded up into the trunks of vehicles.
“My central word is we should all be one. As a community we should be open and loving. Many people have been here throughout the winter months and they are welcome to stay. For cottagers thinking of spending their weekends in Muskoka, I would advise don’t travel back and fourth.”
He estimated the seasonal population has spiked by about a thousand people since the COVID-19 outbreak and they are dispersed across the township.
Harding said there are conflicting messages.
“The Canadian medical officer of health tells you not to go to the cottage and then the prime minister sends his wife and kids to the cottage.”
The mayor of the township which includes communities such as Port Carling, Mactier and Bala urges everyone to stay put and stay home, wherever home might be.
“I am staying at my own place. I don’t interact with anybody. We all have to assume we have the virus wherever you are in this province.”