Why do some Ontarians still have access to their cottages, while others do not?
People in Ontario can access their secondary residences if they choose. But there’s one exception: marinas, boat launches and water-access-only properties
Twice in the last week, I wrote about the confusion in Ontario regarding access to secondary residences. In Quebec, the situation is essentially clear: residents are instructed, as per provincial emergency decrees, to remain in their primary homes. The police are cutting off access to remote areas, and turning back vehicles at the Ontario border unless the occupants have an “essential” purpose to their travels. But in Ontario, while remaining in your primary residence is what the government is encouraging you to do, it’s not a mandatory order.
It took longer than it should have to confirm that, but the office of Ontario’s solicitor general, the Ontario Provincial Police and municipal politicians in cottage country did eventually confirm that there is no restriction on travel to secondary residences (though some travel restrictions in First Nations reserves are blocking access to certain properties). City dwellers are being asked to exercise good discretion should they travel, and to bring their supplies with them, so as not to buy out all the stock at grocery stores at the long end of logistics lines that have been disrupted all over the province. Yes, the provincial government, and many rural residents, would prefer that the city folk simply stay at home. But it’s not mandatory.
Yet there’s one exception, and not even a deliberate one: marinas, boat launches and water-access-only properties.
The issue is complicated, because circumstances vary widely. Marinas weren’t deemed essential services, at least not outright — some of their business operations are non-essential. Servicing boats for the start of the season (the ice hasn’t even melted everywhere yet) isn’t permitted, if the boat is a recreational craft, or if the operator will use it to reach a water-access-only secondary residence. But marinas are permitted to service and launch boats that provide the operator access to a water-access-only primary residence. Marinas can also service emergency service fleets and provide logistical support to remote communities that must get supplies by water. But the marina owners are being asked to make judgment calls on their own initiative as to what part of their normal business operations the government would consider essential and which are not.
Publicly owned boat launches are another challenge. Again, they can be used, legally, in support of specific activities, including accessing primary residences that are only reachable by water, or sending provisions to remote communities. But you’re not supposed to use them to launch your boat or take a cruise to your cottage, if you have a different primary residence.
Responsibly and consistently enforcing enforcing all of this, as you can imagine, is impossible. It is being left up to individual marina operators to decide what services they offer, and while some of them may be deliberately flouting emergency regulations and provincial requests, others probably simply don’t know what they should be doing. Enforcement of activity around boat launches will be similarly scattershot. How is a police officer or municipal official to know which boats are being launched to return people to their primary residences and which are being used to take people to their cottages?
It’s important to repeat here that while Ontarians have been asked to avoid their cottages, it’s just a request. It may well be a reasonable and prudent request, but that’s all it is. It is not a law. It is not an emergency order. But some people’s secondary homes are cut off by the marina restrictions. It’s unequal. Those people are de facto blocked from their cottages.
This is admittedly a niche issue. There’s over 800,000 secondary residences in Ontario, but even assuming big extended families using each of them, it’s still a minority of the total population. And the concerns of people in remote communities, with less robust access to critical supplies and health care, are certainly valid.
But the situation is still a confusing one, and the pressure is only going to get worse. It’s been unseasonably cold in southern Ontario. But the good May weather is coming. People who have been cooped up, responsibly self-isolating in the cities for months will want to continue self-isolating in their secondary homes. The Ontario government will then have a lot of angry voters if some people are allowed to do that by car, but others are blocked at the marinas. This is admittedly not the biggest challenge facing Premier Doug Ford today. But the clamour in parts of the province that typically vote blue is going to get louder and louder in the weeks to come. Some clarifications and responsible guidelines now will save some stress and anger later.