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New Brunswick investigating after Peterborough councillor visited province despite border restrictions

New Brunswick investigating Peterborough city councillor’s travel to province during pandemic
A Peterborough city councillor is facing criticism after driving to New Brunswick to check out how their restaurant recovery is unfolding. Coun. Stephen Wright stayed in the Maritime province for 11 days. New Brunswick's premier has now launched an investigation into Wright's visit and one city mayor is asking for an apology.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says he’s shocked that a municipal councillor from Ontario recently entered New Brunswick to research and monitor how restaurants are reopening.

“I wondered if it was from a satire piece,” Don Darling told Global News.

“Is this actually possible?”

Stephen Wright, a city councillor in Peterborough, Ont., says he arrived in New Brunswick in mid-April and stayed for 11 days.

New Brunswick’s borders are closed to non-essential travel, and under the the state of emergency, people who do enter are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Stephen Wright, a Peterborough, Ont., city councillor, says he visited New Brunswick to see how restaurants were reopening in the province
Stephen Wright, a Peterborough, Ont., city councillor, says he visited New Brunswick to see how restaurants were reopening in the province. Photo credit: City of Peterborough

Wright says he had no contact with anyone while he was in New Brunswick and that he stayed at an Airbnb. He says he paid for gas at the pumps and ordered food or went through drive-thrus.

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He says he is self-isolating now that he’s back home, although he had a meeting with a concerned citizen May 26, so he wore a mask.

READ MORE: 2 new coronavirus cases in N.B., doctor connected to outbreak in Campbellton suspended

A spokesperson with the Peterborough mayor’s office says this trip was not a council directive, it was not funded by the city, and the mayor wasn’t aware of the trip until Coun. Wright returned to Ontario.

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Darling says he learned of the story from many emails and social media tags on Saturday after a news report circulated in Peterborough. Darling took to Twitter to say that the province was investigating, and that “I’m not sure what could be said to convince me, that this was not a reckless trip.”

New Brunswick and P.E.I. discussing possible ‘border bubble’
New Brunswick and P.E.I. discussing possible ‘border bubble’

To that concern, Wright says New Brunswick has been progressive in its reopening of the economy, and he wanted to see how restaurants were reopening as his city faces a mult-million dollar budget shortfall.

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“I would say what would be reckless and irresponsible is for me, as a policy maker, to not get firsthand knowledge of how policies are going to have to change,” Wright says.

Wright says he visited Greater Moncton and Fredericton along the way.

Before he left Ontario, Wright he says he called several provincial offices — including the premier’s — to get a definition of essential travel, but didn’t get a clear answer.

“The constitutionality of restricting a Canadian’s right to move freely across this country… That is the real issue,” Wright says.

“If the concern is about somebody coming into your province and contaminating or spreading the virus, why not provide tests at your borders?”

New Brunswick to shut its borders to temporary foreign workers due to COVID-19
New Brunswick to shut its borders to temporary foreign workers due to COVID-19

At New Brunswick’s first Sunday COVID-19 briefing, Premier Blaine Higgs said the trip doesn’t seem necessary.

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“It’s under full investigation,” Higgs said, “because it does not seem like a legitimate reason to come into the province.”

Premier Blaine Higgs speaks at the New Brunswick COVID-19 update on May 7, 2020.
Premier Blaine Higgs speaks at the New Brunswick COVID-19 update on May 7, 2020. File

“We will evaluate just what questions were asked, but more importantly, what answers were given,” Higgs said.

Meanwhile, a statement from the New Brunswick government to Global News Monday says, in part, “Our priority is protecting New Brunswickers and border controls are key.”

“The investigation is ongoing and we will be reviewing our records and following up with the City of Peterborough to determine if this was work travel authorized by the City,” reads the statement from Geoffrey Downey, a provincial spokesperson.

“I think this behaviour and this road trip and this sightseeing tour was absolutely wrong,” Darling says. “I’m really disappointed.”

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“I think the mayor and the councillor need to apologize to the people of New Brunswick for this lack of judgement.”

READ MORE: The New Reality: Bubble between N.B. and P.E.I. ‘best bet’ for tourism industry, travel

Wright says he doesn’t need to give an apology to New Brunswickers about his research trip.

“I’m doing my job.”