British Columbia businesses prepare for confrontations with some Alberta customers over COVID-19 measures

B.C. ski resorts and businesses are bracing for possible confrontations as Alberta lifts health mandates.JACQUES BOISSINOT/The Canadian Press

As Alberta begins rolling back COVID-19 restrictions at a faster pace than most other places in Canada, BC tourism and hotel businesses frequented by travelers from across the province say they are concerned about an increase in the number of customers unaware or unaware of health restrictions.

Alberta abruptly ended its vaccine passport system earlier this week, arguing the measure was no longer needed as a fifth wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant recedes, although a provincial mandate to mask will remain in place until the end of the month. Saskatchewan is lifting its vaccine passport system this weekend and Manitoba intends to follow in March, while British Columbia has made it clear that its vaccine and mask rules will remain in place for the future. predictable.

Albertans make up a significant proportion of visitors to many tourist destinations in British Columbia, particularly to ski resorts such as Golden and Fernie, as well as the Okanagan. As the two jurisdictions diverge in their approach to COVID-19, B.C. restaurants and ski resorts say they expect most customers to abide by the rules, but prepare for potential conflict.

Michael J. Ballingall, senior vice president of Big White ski resort near Kelowna, British Columbia, said that while the majority of visitors follow the rules in place, occasional disputes over masking measures or the proof of vaccination occur.

“Some people want to show their license on their phone. That’s not the rule in BC, you have to have photo ID,’ Ballingall said, adding that the resort has been working to ensure all public health measures have been taken. been complied with in the past and will continue to uphold the evidence. vaccination and mask-wearing requirements.

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“There is no debate here. Leave, take your photo ID, come back or just go home. We don’t bend the rules for anyone.

He noted that about 20 percent of the resort’s visitors come from Alberta, and many from this province own second homes in the Okanagan Valley or other parts of the interior of British Columbia

“Alberta seems to be a lot more relaxed than British Columbia,” Ballingall said. “Some of the people who are here from Alberta, they come here to get away from it all, and they think because they’re out there, everything is relaxed.”

Ron Oszust, the mayor of Golden, which is about a three-hour drive from Calgary and home to the popular Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, said he doesn’t anticipate any tension between visitors and locals.

“The community and visitors have done a great job of adapting to the situations, and the visitors, for the most part, have been very, very respectful of the restrictions we have put in place here.”

But he acknowledged that frontline staff could face a difficult task.

“They have to be that person, stand in front of someone and say these are our policies, these are practices and please abide by them or you won’t be able to do business here,” Oszust said. “It’s a tough position to be in, absolutely.”

Some restaurant staff brace for more conflict

Petra Nott, owner of the Island restaurant in Golden, said her staff had already experienced an increase in hostility over the past week.

“We’ve seen it before with the truck convoy,” Ms Nott said. “It brought back people who are a little rude to you and feel a little turned on by the protests. … We probably went several months without anyone being rude to us. And then last week there were three who gave us a bit of a hard time even though they had their passports.

About half of the restaurant’s customers are usually from Alberta, she said, and while most visitors follow the rules, there are always “a few” who don’t.

“When the vaccine passport came into effect, there was quite a bit of resistance from Alberta. But I would say the majority of them knew and had their paperwork ready,” Ms Nott said.

“We may just have to invest in additional disposable masks to distribute to people. I just hope most of them are good enough.

The BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association said its members are preparing for a small number of conflicts and disputes with unruly customers.

Ian Tostenson, the association’s president and CEO, said restaurants in the Okanagan Valley and areas near the BC-Alberta border have faced this type of problem before. conflicts last summer and fall, when Alberta dropped most COVID-19 restrictions and took longer. than other jurisdictions to implement a vaccine passport.

Masking mandates and vaccine passport requirements were the main source of friction, he said.

“In most cases, it’s just a communication problem. People say, ‘What do you mean, I can only have six people at a table?’ or ‘What do you mean I have to wear a mask?’ said Mr. Tostenson.

“When they understand that we’re following health orders and not just making this stuff up, they’re fine.”

He added that it will be some time before tourism from Albertans picks up, in which case B.C. will likely have rolled back some of its measures as well.

It is fortunate that the province is taking a more cautious approach to abandoning public health measures and that British Columbia has been able to protect restaurants from closures more successfully than many other North American jurisdictions.

“That says a lot about how things have been done here,” said Tostenson, who called Alberta’s leadership “not the example we want to follow.”

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