Justin Trudeau Is Also Confused About Stay-Home Rules When It Comes To Cottages

Photo: Courtesy of David Kawai/Bloomberg/Getty.
On Friday, Justin Trudeau delivered his daily coronavirus press conference, telling Canadians how important it was that we all take a miss on any Easter weekend travel plans in order to protect the greater good. As usual, the message was delivered from outside the PM’s residence at Rideau Cottage. In Ottawa. Flash forward to Easter Sunday when Sophie Grégoire Trudeau posted photos of the entire family enjoying the holiday at their cottage in Quebec to her Instagram account... and a whole lot of angry commenters unimpressed over a perceived double standard. 
So what exactly is going on here? Did the PM break his own rules by travelling to his secondary residence? And if he can go to his cottage for a holiday, why can’t the rest of us?

What's all the fuss over Trudeau's Easter weekend about?

People are angry because the prime minister's actions suggest some pretty unavoidable hypocrisy: “Do as I say, not as I do,” etc. A lot of Canadians missed their loved ones on Easter. A lot of them wished they could spend the holiday weekend at a cottage. But they didn’t because — newsflash! — we are in the middle of a public health crisis and our prime minister (and our premiers and our mayors and our public health officials) told us not to. With so many of us pleebs sucking it up for the common good, seeing our PM make an exception for himself is at best disappointing. At worst, infuriating. At any rate, totally perplexing. 

They’re all in the same family. Exactly what rules is he breaking?

The ones that say we are all supposed to stay at our primary residence and avoid non-essential travel. A particular point was put on both of these messages in the lead up to the Easter long weekend. Here’s Ontario Premier Doug Ford reminding Ontarians (presumably including Trudeau) to please stay home this holiday. Here’s Canada’s top doc, Theresa Tam, with the same message. And here is Trudeau himself reminding us that, “This weekend is going to be very different. You’ll have to stay home. You’ll have to Skype that big family dinner and the Easter egg hunt.”
It’s true, he was reuniting with people in his immediate family (his wife and kids have been riding out COVID-19 in Quebec), but that doesn’t change the non-essential travel part. And what are they all doing at the cottage anyway when the rest of us are being told that travelling to any secondary residence is forbidden until further notice?

Why can’t he go to the cottage? It’s his cottage.

To quote Theresa Tam: “#COVID time is not #cottage time.” Politicians and public health officials have been unequivocal on this point for a while now, but there is still a lot of confusion (apparently stretching all the way to the PMO).
To refresh: Stay home does not mean stay at your cottage. Even if you’re bringing your own groceries, and even if you plan to self-isolate when you get there, and even if you pay property tax. It’s frustrating — absolutely. Who wants to miss out on May 2-4? But these decisions are based on preventing spread and preserving limited health-care resources in rural communities. Mayors in various cottage country regions have literally been begging seasonal residents to stay away. In Gatineau, QC, the mayor even went so far as to set up a police checkpoint at the provincial border between Ottawa (where the Trudeau family normally lives) and Gatineau (where Harrington Lake, the official country residence for Canada's prime minister, is located), for the purpose of restricting exactly what the PM just did.

Has Trudeau offered an explanation?

When asked about his trip at Tuesday’s press conference, Trudeau said that his family have been at Harrington Lake for three weeks and that he already said he was going there. (Since “stamped it!” is not a thing in political governance, it’s unclear why this second part matters.) Trudeau said he followed the guidelines from Health Canada, but since this is the same Health Canada that told us all to say put, the explanation is (again) confusing.  

So why was he allowed to go?

The answer to that question is ethical as much as practical. Because he is the prime minister, he is obviously allowed to do certain things that the rest of us are not. Clearly arrangements were made when Trudeau (and his multi-car motorcade) passed between the currently monitored border between Ontario and Quebec. What is less clear is what on earth he was thinking. Absolutely a dad missing his family and wanting to be with them on a holiday is understandable, but that’s also the whole point. You can’t ask an entire country to do one thing and then pack up your weekend bag and do the exact opposite. 

Is he really hurting anyone, though? 

Yes. Possibly a lot of people, and here’s why. It’s important that our leaders follow the rules because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s also a matter of public safety that goes beyond any one cottage jaunt. Trudeau’s weekend escape isn’t just bad optics (though certainly it’s that), it’s an invitation to anyone else who feels like they have their reasons for doing the thing that our government is asking everyone not to do. Enforcement can only go so far, which is why literally every elected official in this country is calling on us to do the right thing when no one is watching. We’re all in this together means all of us. Even — and really, especially — the PM

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