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Pandemic Woes by Larry Peckford


It should come as no surprise that the topic of the pandemic should appear in this column. Seeing as I spent six weeks last summer in the Codroy Valley in what was a virtual virus-free environment, the daily news of Ontario’s pandemic challenges is a big contrast to life in Newfoundland.

While you deal with virus numbers in single digits (if any at all) we here in Ontario are seeing numbers spiking in the thousands. As I write our numbers are an average of 3,000 cases a day and often exceeding 100 cases in the City of Ottawa. Long term care homes have been particularly hard hit and daily death counts are downright scary.

We are now in a state of emergency, with text and radio alerts telling us to stay home. Schools are closed. Premier Doug Ford is pulling what hair he has left by imploring people to stay put and follow health protocols.

The vaccine is here, but what’s available for the next while will not really do the job. The big quantity of doses that we were hoping to get won’t come for another month or so. There’s lots to worry about.

Our Newfoundland compatriot, former General Rick Hillier, is in charge of distribution and logistics for the vaccine here in Ontario. As usual he lends an air of competence and frank talk to the situation.

We are constantly reading and hearing of the long term impacts of the pandemic, i.e. working from home and travel restrictions come to mind. It is claimed that once this all passes, probably 30% of the workforce will continue working from home.

You can be sure there are many people who are well fed up working this way. But if nothing else, the acceptance of remote working is here to stay.

That is not a bad thing.

One time if you asked your boss to consider this as a viable alternative, you would get kicked out of the office for such a proposition. That is less likely to occur now and it is about time.

The business travel and leisure/tourism market, on which Newfoundland so heavily relies, may take years to return. Business travel that was a staple for airlines has evaporated. A Zoom business meeting replaces in-person meetings, conventions and the like.

There may be some resilience here but much of that practice is here to stay. I suspect the upcoming tourism season in the province will not be great – two years in a row. I pity the tourism operators that rely on a busy summer season. The airlines are abandoning routes to the province so the airports are taking a beating. The smaller regional ones are in jeopardy all across the Atlantic provinces.

Something that got my attention recently is the movement of people away from urban areas to work remotely in more rural locations. A lot is being written about it, especially as it relates to the larger cities.

One question is how widespread is this and can smaller regions benefit?

The work-from-home practice is pretty evident in Ottawa as the ridership on buses and trains has nosedived. Our major highways throughout the city that are often full of traffic snarls in the morning and evening are mostly gone now.

The poor traffic reporters, who are a big part of the radio shows, have a lot less to say. City buses go around in circles practically empty. We have light rail trains that are being extended farther out to the edges of the city and you wonder will they be filled.

Will workers want to go back to the inner city offices once the pandemic is over? Will they need to?

There is evidence that mid-career or soon-to-retire folks in big cities are selling their houses and moving out. It seems Toronto and Montreal have seen this in big numbers.

Anecdotally, I hear Halifax is experiencing a hot housing market. Might it possibly be influenced by people who can work remotely and are choosing to live there?

I saw in the news a couple who made the choice to live in Newfoundland for family reasons and now find they are able to perform their jobs from there. With Newfoundland’s declining population, it would be great if we could find a way to entice people from the big cities to relocate to the province.

Is there any sense to the argument that what might start as a summer vacation by some folks could end up being a more permanent arrangement? Is that far fetched?

City dwellers do like their amenities though – good cell phones and fast internet service.

Would a quieter lifestyle and affordable housing be a good replacement?

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on a snowy day in Ottawa.

While I look out the window at a slower city and daily life, I envy my friends in Newfoundland. My frequent visits to a nearby mall here have ended. Local eateries are takeout only or are closed.

Spare us a thought, will you, while we get through this?

Larry Peckford and his wife, Dianne (née LeRiche) have lived in Ottawa for the past 10 years, and maintain a summer home in the Codroy Valley. Larry is a retired Newfoundland public servant and community volunteer. You can drop him an e-mail at: larrypeckford@outlook.com.

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