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Opinion: Masking from west to east; BC taking a softer approach

After twice postponing my trip to see my west coast grandkids because of Covid-19, it was time to bite the bullet and book a Swoop Air 737 out of Hamilton. At least I would get to spend a couple of weeks with my son’s family before school starts. (Photo L-R) Linden, Maisie and Flynn Rudolfs. So last Monday I presented myself, masked and earnest, for an early morning flight to Abbotsford, BC., along with dozens of fellow travellers similarly muzzled for our five hour flight to the hinterlands of Vancouver. What I had heard about half-empty airplanes was not the case, not many vacant seats on this Boeing. But, the journey was pleasant enough. After the proverbial screaming toddler fell asleep, I struck up a conversation with a young man from Petrolia, Ont., who told me through his mouth covering that he wanted to be a stage actor while digging through his knapsack for peanut butter sandwiches. My first pandemic shock came at the Hertz rental counter in Abbotsford, where I found out my licence has expired and I was denied a Ford Focus. Good Ontarian that I am, my assumption was this must be my fault, only later to find out that because of Covid-19 the paperwork was delayed and my licence was automatically extended. But nothing quite beats the sensation of being stranded at a backwoods secondary airport, an hour from Vancouver with no transport and a falsely expired licence. Travellers usually come to the conclusion that west coasters are more laid-back and friendlier than their Ontario counterparts, and this has been my experience as well. British Columbia is not the GTA, and it’s not Alberta, Quebec or the Maritimes. Cultural differences and contrasts abound from coast to coast, and so, too, do the approaches provincial leaders have taken in tamping down the Covid-19 scourge. For instance, the Atlantic provinces declared their own intra-provincial bubble while demanding outsiders quarantine for 14 days. Quebec cops were stopping motorists and giving out fines to anyone straying too far from home. Premier Doug Ford declared a lock down on non-essential businesses, and many communities, including Halton Hills, and quickly adopted stringent face mask bylaws to be enforced in public spaces. But British Columbia never did get that hard core, taking a softer approach. Even at the peak of the first wave, it never demanded that all businesses shut down, with the exception of hair salons, gyms and rec centres. Face mask laws have remained in the aegis of municipalities, and very few of them have sought to make them compulsory. When school starts in the Lower Mainland next week, masks in classrooms will remain optional for students. I live and shop in Acton, so I’ve always got a mouth covering nearby. But here in Surrey, BC the devices seem to be more of an afterthought than a pressing concern. Loblaws, Winners and Walmart have recently made masks mandatory for employees and customers, but enforcement is lax. I went shopping for groceries yesterday at a Loblaws and estimate compliance among shoppers at 80%. I couldn’t help thinking those consumers without masks (mostly younger women, I might add) would be shamed or at least shunned in Acton. (Photo) Linden Rudolfs wearing an "Acton City Limits" shirt. Public transit in Vancouver recently invoked masking mandates on its vehicles but they’re not handing out fines yet. It’s the honey vs vinegar approach in ‘LaLa Land’, but that could be changing as Covid-19 cases are on the upswing. A lot depends on what happens when school starts and we move into flu season. Meanwhile, I’m washing my masks and getting ready for my return flight. You don’t fool around with Transport Canada; two WestJet passengers who refused to wear masks were just given stiff fines of $1,000 each. And Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam suggested only yesterday that “People engaged in sexual activity with persons other than themselves should wear a mask”. When will this madness end?

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