Despite bleak worldwide tourism predictions, PEI could see an increase in summer visits

By Sandi Lowther
Owner, Fairways Cottages, Cavendish

Sandi Lowther, right, with her daughter Chelsea. Chelsea is a Human Neurogeneticist Medical Researcher, completing her Post-Doctorate Fellowship at The Broad Institute, Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital.

When you think of the COVID-19 virus two immediate thoughts come to mind. The first is for those individuals and families who have been inflicted with the virus. Our hearts and prayers go out to the families who are suffering and those who have lost their lives. The second is the economic impact it has and will continue to cause people around the globe.

The industry most affected from the virus is world tourism. We are witnessing this impact with reduced international flights, cancelled meetings and conferences, and restricted and/or cancelled large festivals and events.

While Canada, comparably speaking, is most fortunate with few individuals reported with the virus, the economic impact will still be felt.

Despite the negative world-wide tourism predictions, Prince Edward Island tourism operators may actually experience an increase in summer leisure traffic. Why? Eight-five percent of travel to the Island is rubber tire traffic. Many travel parties from our key markets have already cancelled their late winter cruise and international travel plans. Given the safe and protected nature of our Island, coupled with the fact there are no known virus cases, people may flock to their cars and vacation on our Island.

Our company, Fairways Cottages, has experienced an unprecedented increase in reservation requests during the past two weeks. Our reservations on the books over this same time in 2019 are up 5.4 per cent. While we can not definitively tie this entire increase to the situation, we are hearing directly from our new clients that they cancelled their late winter – early spring international flights, all-inclusive vacation packages and cruise travel plans and have decided to take their families to our beautiful and safe Island.

While it is far too early to actually predict a long-term outcome, we have faith in our medical scientific community to soon find a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Complacency is our enemy in the fight against a deadly contagion

By Jim Brown

Think one of the world’s longest bridges will protect Canada’s smallest province against the coronavirus? Think again.

The coronavirus will wash over our shores, and probably sooner than many of us expect.

We can’t wish it away, like anti-vaxxers wish measles away by not vaccinating their children against this serious, preventable childhood disease. Unvaccinated kids risk blindness, hearing loss, encephalitis, immune system suppression and even death from their parents’ wilful ignorance.

Will the coronavirus be the “Big One” that many experts predict is long overdue? We can only hope not. In the meantime everyone should practise washing their hands thoroughly every day – as many times as they can.

One possible bright side could be lower rents for modest and low income Islanders.

Housing and rental prices will likely fall everywhere, including Prince Edward Island. That’s potentially good news for Charlottetown renters, facing one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country. And, with travel slumping, Airbnbs may convert back to regular, long term rentals.
That is, of course, if the worst fears of infectious disease authorities come true.

The coronavirus has a two to three per cent death rate, which may not seem like a lot but it more than dwarfs that of the latest strain of influenza, which kills .05 to .5 per cent of all those infected. And yet thousands of Canadians, largely frail seniors, die every year.

If only we had a plan to deal with a pandemic. But wait, we do! The Prince Edward island Pandemic Influenza Contingency Plan for the Health Sector was released in 2006 and we hope it’s been updated at least a few times since.

The plan anticipates 140 to 200 deaths, 600 hospitalizations, 26,000 people with symptoms severe enough to require a visit to an emergency department and about 40,000 people with symptoms severe enough to keep them home from work for a minimum of half a day.

Imagine what the toll would be on our Island economy. Remember, we have a population of less than 157,000 and our hospitals are already working at full or close to full capacity.

The coronavirus, which got its start in an illegal wildlife meat market in China, has now been found in dozens of countries around the world and is spreading at an alarming rate despite the World Health Organization’s best efforts to contain it.

In Japan, Korea, Italy and other hard-hit countries schools and churches are closing and sporting events are being cancelled or moved to empty stadiums. Large gatherings have been discouraged by authorities, but all it’s done so far is delay the inevitable.

It is truly disturbing to contemplate what we, as Islanders face, if the worst happens and the Pandemic Influenza Contingency Plan for the Health Sector lays it all out in clinical detail.

“In a pandemic, the number of deaths in a six to eight week wave is estimated to be similar to that which typically occurs over six months in a non-pandemic period. As in the health care system, demands on funeral industry services will increase at the same time as their workforce is reduced due to illness or caregiving responsibilities. A mass fatality plan for a pandemic will be established to deal with the predicted increase in deaths.”

Where do we put the bodies when morgues fill up? Are our rinks big enough and can they be kept cold long enough?

Are we prepared to wall ourselves in our homes – to self-quarantine – should things get really bad? Do we have enough food to live apart from others who may be infected, or to protect others if we are infected?

Do we have two weeks or more of food and other essential supplies?

Do we have enough grief counsellors?

Can we replace essential workers in hospitals, schools, utilities, police and fire services and public works departments? What about our fishing and farming sectors?

Already in cities throughout North America gowns and face masks are disappearing from store shelves and hand cleanser, if it can be found, often costs five or six times the regular price.

What happens when our ‘just in time’ delivery services are shut down because workers are sick and trains and trucks aren’t operating?

Are we ready for that?

God, I hope so…

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Cruise ships continue to grow in popularity

By Jim Brown

I recently bumped into someone who works in the cruise ship industry on PEI.

When I asked him about the dark cloud overhanging cruise ships – thousands of passengers quarantined on vessels around the world for the coronavirus, he smiled and took a moment to explain why the industry wasn’t in the dumper.

“Every shipyard in the world that is capable of building (cruise) ships has one in production and (the ships) are bigger,” he said.

The growth in capacity is stunning. Ship sizes have soared from a range of 1,400 to 2,000 passengers to 3,000 passengers and up.

But not everything is rosy. There is a dark side to the growth.

Cruise ship demand has grown so much several European ports simply can’t handle them and many residents of communities besieged by the ships don’t want them there, or the hordes of tourists they disgorge with every visit.

Too much of anything is never a good thing. And seaports have lost many of the qualities that made them attractive places to settle down and raise a family. All because too many cruise ships were dropping anchor and disgorging too many passengers.

And last year’s hurricane Dorian posed huge logistical challenges for Caribbean ports, which were severely damaged and could not support cruise ship visits while repairs were being undertaken.

So guess what? That means more cruise ship traffic for the Eastern seaboard and for eastern Canada and the Maritimes.

The route “along the eastern seaboard in the states, Boston and even further down, all the way up Quebec City and Montreal and turn around and come back, is a winner for them,” said the source.

Last year Charlottetown received just shy of 100 cruise ships, while this year’s total should reach 120.

“And bigger ships, not 1,400-1,500 person ships like the Holland America boats are…but the 3,500 and up ones. They put another dock in the waterfront in Charlottetown so they can park two alongside. There’s a potential in Charlottetown right now, if everything went just right, for five cruise ships (to dock) in one day.”

So far the maximum number has been four, “and that was a real nightmare,” he said.

It’s easy to see why cruise ship visits are so desirable to our provincial government, since on average each cruise ship generates $350,000 per trip to PEI.

“There’s a huge amount of employment, the Island is just humming – people are working,” said the insider.
But in Europe the welcome mat has gotten awfully frayed.

Cruise ship traffic “is over-running the place, there’s so many. There’s not enough taxis, there’s not enough seats in the restaurants, there’s not enough facilities – it’s becoming unmanageable.”

The cruise ship insider compares the situation to that of Airbnb.

“In Europe there’s a huge revolution against Airbnb, to the point where the locals are up in arms – the local rental facilities have gone up in price because of demand.”

Will we be getting something like the coronavirus on our shores because of cruise ships?

“There have been many times when we’ve had the norovirus,” and it wasn’t good, he answered.

All those people crammed into small spaces is “a recipe for the transmission of any virus,” said the insider, who believes the coronavirus is more likely to arrive from Asia by plane, with many Islanders travelling to the continent to visit family and for work commitments.

He recalls several years ago when tour buses were fumigated and wiped down.

Still, the industry is awakening to public demands for improved service. For instance, newer ships will take less of a toll on the environment.

But is that enough to keep our love affair with cruise ships alive?

It’s safe to say we should know a lot more by this summer.

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Building permit revenues soar in resort municipality

By Jim Brown
 
Look up, look way up.

The Resort Municipality of Cavendish had budgeted for $2,000 in revenues from building permits this year. But the revenues were more than three times that, at $6,491.24. And there is still two months left in the fiscal year, ending March 31.

“It was obviously an underestimate,” said Mayor Matthew Jelley, at a public information meeting on Feb 24
to gather input on the resort municipality’s operating budget, capital budget and five-year capital expenditure program.

Mayor Jelley suggested part of the reason for the sharp rise was developers trying “to get ahead” of looming national building code changes which will increase the costs of construction.

“There are two factors that led to the number of building permits (going up). One is the feeling that people are trying to get ahead of the building code, and second, the province is in a period of unprecedented building construction and the resort municipality is part of that,” he said.

“The national building code, generally, makes the requirement for architect and engineer stamped drawings more explicit and will expand it out to properties that currently aren’t covered by the Architect’s Act and the Engineering Professions Act. For the most part there are increased requirements under the National Building Code for energy efficiency…”

Projects must be built to take into account a changing and more hostile climate, featuring more and fiercer storms and a greater risk of flooding and other natural disasters.

Commercial projects must include architect’s drawings and because of that, whether they are built before the national building code’s changes are implemented or after, must still reflect those anticipated changes.

For residential developments, up to a certain size, architect’s drawings are not required and therefore “builders can build to their own best practices, which may not be strictly to the building code,” said Mayor Jelley.

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The rape of the Palestinians

By Richard Deaton, Stanley Bridge

Trump’s so-called “peace plan” for the Palestinians and Israel is blatantly one-sided: his farcical proposal allows Israel to make yet another massive land grab, as it has already done with Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories.

This so-called peace plan destroys any possibility of nationhood for the Palestinians.

Virtually every major international organization and media outlet has condemned the proposal, including the UN, the OIC, the European Union (EU), the British Guardian, the Independent, B’Tselem ( a group of decommissioned Israeli soldiers), our own Globe and Mail, and Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers. This so-called “Deal of the Century” has been rammed down the Palestinians throat. They were never consulted. Trump’s so-called “peace plan” is built on a series of crimes against humanity, and the Palestinians.

For example, the forcible transfer of people, called for by this proposal, is what the Nazis did to the Jews during WW II. Trump’s “Deal of the Century” includes relocating 200,000 to 400,000 Israeli-Arabs. This is expressly forbidden by the Geneva Accords and ignores Israel’s many violations of international law, as well as their defiance of over a hundred UN General Assembly resolutions.

Israel’s brutal policies in the Occupied Territories have continued unabated and have created an increasing schism between Israeli and North American Jews, resulting in increased support for the BDS movement. According to a US-based poll reported in Haaretz (Feb. 4, 2020), Israeli PM Natanyahu’s support for Trump’s policies is the main reason why North American Jews are increasingly disenchanted with Israel.

Importantly, Trudeau’s Liberal government and the federal NDP have remained silent on these recent developments, effectively making them complicit in this crime against humanity. Why the silence?

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North Rustico and area residents need to make housing needs known to government: Brad Trivers

Story and photos by Jim Brown

There are just four people on the waiting list for subsidized seniors housing in North Rustico, which is not a true representation of the need, says District 18 MLA Brad Travers, who hosted a town hall on housing related issues on Jan 13 at the North Rustico Lion’s Club.

Provincial housing officer Jillian Scott.

Forty people joined Mr Trivers including housing officer Jillian Scott, from Social Housing and Development, and other provincial officials from Finance PEI.
Homes are getting pricey, not just in Charlottetown, but all across the Island and eligibility thresholds and subsidies are struggling to keep up.

For example, for a one bedroom in senior housing, the cutoff for eligibility is $29,000 gross, for a two bedroom $35,500 and for a three bedroom it’s $39,500.

In the private market the income thresholds are the same.

Ms Scott, who is also responsible for subsidized seniors housing in rural parts of the province including Hunter River and North Rustico, said while there were only four people on a waiting list for seniors subsidized housing in North Rustico, there were 467 in Charlottetown.

Mr Trivers expressed disbelief at the North Rustico numbers.

“When I first heard there were only four seniors on the wait list (in North Rustico) and maybe five or so (others that he knows of) for nine, I asked how can that be right? The problem is people aren’t actually going through the process. That’s one of the reasons we’re here tonight.”

He urged residents who need the subsidy to get on the list, or if they know of someone who deserves to be on the list, make sure they know about it.

He said he met with a group of seniors last spring who estimated at least 12 units could be filled in North Rustico.

A two hour town hall on housing was held at the North Rustico Lion’s Club.

Builders need that information in order to determine whether the market is large enough to sustain new projects.

“That’s the only way their going to get subsidized housing and it’s also the only way as a government we’re going to be able to fund developers to build subsidized housing in any given area,” said Mr Trivers.

People who qualify for seniors subsidies are 60 and up or 55 with a CPP disability income.

Maximum rents eligible for subsidies are $794 for one bedroom units, $951 for two bedrooms, and $1,118 for three bedrooms. Seniors must pay 25 per cent of their income toward the rent.

Ms Scott added there is a little bit of flexibility in the ceilings, depending on the programs.

Approximately 40 people showed up at town hall on housing in North Rustico, hosted by District 18 MLA Brad Trivers.

Resort Municipality of Cavendish councillor George Clark Dunning expressed some frustration at the soaring rent costs.

“I’m not leaving here with any answers or hope…Good luck finding a one room bedroom for less than $1,000,” he said.

“The numbers aren’t real…There’s been fabulous developments in the Town of North Rustico. There’s some beautiful housing, but I can guarantee you none of them start at a thousand dollars a month and I imagine they are all plus utilities.”

Mr Clark Dunning suggested building a three apartment building could cost $500,000 and rent will have to be set a level that will cover those costs, which are probably higher than the thresholds allowed for subsidies.

Tenants will likely be responsible for utilities and heat which will take a big bite of their disposable income, he said.

Finance PEI officials were on hand later to explain to builders how they could tap into sources of financing that could help reduce the cost of borrowing and make it easier for them to get their projects off the ground.

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Growing demand for streetlights in Cavendish, but who will pay for them?

By Jim Brown

It seems everyone in Cavendish wants to get a streetlight, but should the resort municipality pay for them?

CAO Brenda MacDonald, at the Dec 9 monthly meeting, said she recently fielded a call for one in Friendly Lane and from some other people in Forest Lane.

But that’s far from the only requests.

Most of the demand for new streetlights is coming from Seawood Estates, represented by a vocal residents’ association. There could be as many 15 installed if all the demands are met from residents. The development features several sharp turns and three-way intersections, all without lights.

Councillor and Seawood Estates resident Bill Drost originally brought the issue of streetlights to council’s attention. He said many Seawood residents continue to “live in the dark.”

In areas heavily trafficked by tourists new streetlights are paid for by the municipality. Tourists descend in the summer, at a time of the year “when we have 16 hours of daylight,” said Mr Drost.

Residents, meanwhile, are faced with “16 hours of darkness” in the wintertime, long after tourists have left.

In the case of Seawood Estates, which has 23 full-time residents, any property owner wishing to have a streetlight installed must pay for it themselves. But Seawood Estates has paid for some installations, including a more recent one at the bottom of Bayview and Seawood, right inside the entrance.

Resort Municipality Mayor Matthew Jelley estimates there are three lights paid for Seawood Estates.

Some Cavendish residents, like Planning Board Chair George Clark Dunning, would prefer not to have streetlights in their neighbourhoods, opting for “serenity” over greater illumination.

Councillor Drost said lights are often pointing in the wrong direction and casting illumination too far from their source and even into homeowners’ windows. They may also be improperly shaded.

Mayor Jelley and others were worried about setting a precedent if the resort municipality began paying for streetlights on certain private roads and subdivisions.

The streetlights issue was eventually tabled for future discussion, with Mr Jelley seeking more information about how many lights would be needed and what the financial impact would be on the resort municipality.

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Lobster vessels take to the sea in North Rustico

Photos by Jim Brown
After a four day delay, on May 3, shortly before 6 am, 35 lobster vessels left the North Rustico wharf. The water was calm and the winds were light as hundreds of vessels sailed out from ports throughout PEI on setting day, the official opening of the spring lobster fishery.

 

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Fundraiser brings in more than $23,000 for Fyfe family

By Jim Brown

Janet Cotton, one of several volunteers involved in a fundraiser at the New London Community Complex for the Fyfe family of Stanley Bridge, was thrilled at the turnout and money raised.

“I think it was a really fantastic evening,” said Janet, of the more than $23,000 raised during the March 22 benefit.

“I’d say it exceeded expectations,” she said, estimating the number of people who attended the event at more than 300.

The $23,000 haul includes money donated to an account at the Malpeque Bay Credit Union, which is still accepting donations.

A total of 185 items were auctioned off during the evening.

An earlier Gofundme campaign raised $14,385, which was substantially more than the $10,000 target.

Alfred and Karen Fyfe, and their daughter Michelle and her fiance Kristen Rochford, were living in the nearly two century old building when it caught fire on Feb 20, and burned to the ground.

They were fortunate to escape, along with the family’s dog and a cat, but they lost nearly all of their possessions.

The historic farmhouse had been in the Fyfe family for six generations.

Donations are still being accepted, and in addition to the Malpeque Bay Credit Union, would be donors can also contact Janet Cotton at 886-2528, Bethany Cousins, 439-6723, Sandra Blackett at 886-3239 and 303-3164, Stephanie Moase, 886-2599, Nancy Sanderson, 621-1958 and Angie Matheson at 626-9902.

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Fyfe family rebuilding after devastating fire

By Jim Brown

For decades they were surrounded by history but in just a few minutes it had all turned to ashes. A nearly 200-year-old farmhouse, built 40 years before Confederation, was reduced to a smoldering firepit.

This is all that is left of the Fyfe family’s 190-year-old farmhouse.

The historic home prior to the fire.


The Fyfe family lost nearly everything in the Feb 20 blaze. They may have felt alone in the immediate aftermath, but they soon learned they had an entire community standing with them during the difficult rebuilding process.

Alfred Fyfe, his wife Karen, their daughter Michelle Fyfe and her fiancé Kristen Rochford didn’t have to wait long to find shelter. A good-hearted neighbor, Leslie MacKay, invited the family to stay as long as they wished at his farmhouse.

“We’re just overwhelmed by the support and the affection we’ve received from the community,” said Karen.

“It really is humbling to know there are so many people like this in our community.”

Friends and supporters organized a benefit for the Fyfe family for Friday, March 22 (snow date March 23) at the New London Community Complex. The Fyfe family benefit, featuring items for auction, a 50/50 draw and a cash bar, will start at 7 pm, with the doors opening at 6. Monetary donations will be accepted at the Malpeque Bay Credit Union.

A GoFundMe campaign is trending and by March 6 had already exceeded the campaign’s $10,000 target, with close to $14,500 raised for the Fyfe family in just three weeks. One of the benefit’s organizers, Sandra Blackett, said more than a hundred items had been donated so far, which included overnight stays at hotels in Summerside and Charlottetown.

“We’ve got people everywhere who are helping out,” she said.

Karen Fyfe said the family farm hasn’t missed a beat since the fire, with her daughter, her husband and her daughter’s fiancé all carrying the load.

There are 35 “momma” cows on the property and several have given birth since Christmas Eve Day and the birthing season will continue into April and May, said Karen.

All considered, things could have been much worse. The fire could have spread to a nearby barn and threatened livestock, she said.

“That barn could have been gone, Alfred’s workshop could have been gone,” said Karen.

The family is still counting their blessings everyone escaped without injury. The family dog and cat are alright, as well as three pet ducks and several laying hens.

The family has insurance and will be able to build another farmhouse, but it won’t be nearly as big as the 3,000-sq foot historic building that had been on the property since the late 1820s and had been in the Fyfe family for six generations.

“It was built and lived in before Canada became a country,” said Karen, wistfully.

“It’s a huge loss…the history and the craftsmanship,” said Karen of the home where five children had been raised and she had lived since 1981.

Anyone wishing to donate items to the Fyfe family benefit can call the following numbers: Janet Cotton, 886-2528, Bethany Cousins, 439-6723, Sandra Blackett at 886-3239 and 303-3164, Stephanie Moase, 886-2599, Nancy Sanderson, 621-1958 and Angie Matheson at 626-9902.

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