Nina Bifolchi understands why the province undertook a regional approach to Stage 2 of reopening Ontario, but she is also disappointed due to the potential impacts on Wasaga Beach.
While the health unit in Simcoe Muskoka has been given the green light to move to the next reopening phase, health units in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton are staying in Stage 1, for now, due to the higher number of COVID-19 cases.
Starting Friday, Stage 2 allows for provincial park beaches to reopen, including at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, and the limit on social gatherings can increase from five to 10 people.
“We asked the province last week to consider the implications of a regional approach,” Mayor Bifolchi said. “In a letter to Premier Ford, I stated on behalf of our residents: ‘We are concerned that if Simcoe-Muskoka is one of the areas that is opened in Phase 2 and the GTA remains limited, that GTA residents are going to flood tourist towns like Wasaga Beach.’ That concern remains today.”
Bifolchi said it is disappointing the Government of Ontario is ignoring the concerns of residents and the Town of Wasaga Beach. She said the town and the region have done a commendable job at keeping down the number of COVID-19 cases.
“As much as the Government of Ontario is requesting residents to stay within their regions, we know people are going to want to travel to access services or visit attractions not available in their own areas. At this point, we are waiting to hear how the province will deal with the influx of visitors in our community, in particular our beach, which is owned by the province and operated by Ontario Parks,” Mayor Bifolchi said. “We have supported Premier Ford and his government’s approach through the pandemic, but without a plan to manage the people that will visit our community we have concerns.”
The mayor said Ontario Parks has advised that they are hearing the news at the same time as everyone else and were unable to share with the town as to whether parking lots and washrooms will be open Friday at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park when the beach reopens.
Bifolchi said with so many people anticipated at the beach, enforcing provincial orders about congregating will prove challenging and may be an unrealistic expectation for OPP, provincial park wardens, and municipal law enforcement officers.
“We recognize there are challenges in enforcing the maximum of 10 people that can gather considering protests with hundreds and thousands of people have occurred recently.” Mayor Bifolchi said.
The mayor said she empathizes with local law enforcement and the task they face this weekend when Wasaga Beach Provincial Park reopens its beach, as well as the challenges that will exist over the course of the summer.
“It’s going to be a challenge and I feel for our enforcement officials,” she said. “I also feel for our residents who have been diligently following the public health recommendations throughout the pandemic. Many of them have reached out to me to express their concerns, which I have relayed to Premier Ford.”
The mayor is asking people visiting Wasaga Beach to respect the community and its residents.
“Please follow the social gathering rules,” Mayor Bifolchi said. “Remember to observe physical distancing when in our stores and patios, our parking lots, on our trails, and at our beachfront. We are all in this together. As a result, we must continue to protect ourselves, and each other, if we wish to avoid another wave of COVID-19.”