Gimme Shelter

If I don’t get some shelter, Ooh yeah, I’m gonna fade away. The words from that Rolling Stones tune have been going through my head lately.

Let’s just say that full-timing in a motorcoach during a global pandemic is not what we had in mind when we started this journey in our retirement a few years back. Travel restrictions and border closures have pretty much kept us in one spot. And I think COVID-19 will continue to keep us locked up in Canada, if not in Ontario, for the foreseeable future.

We have a limited set of options in front of us as we try to get some certainty on where we might be sleeping in a few months time.

We have been going through the same discussion on a daily basis: what do we do now?

Absent a global pandemic, we would be finalizing the details for our trip south. Instead we are scouring our immediate area for any potential short-term rentals.

As of now we have one unconfirmed possibility.

The supply side is very, very thin. Yes, there are unfurnished houses and apartments available for a 12-month term but we aren’t going to put our coach into storage for a year. I’m not at all happy about putting it into storage for the six months of winter.

Short-term rentals fall into two broad categories: vacation stays and extended stays.

The vacation stays, like Airbnb, do offer extended stays but the costs, at least for the type of place we would consider, are excessive and we haven’t found one in this area that will accept pets.

The extended stays are companies that specialize in temporary housing. We have been working with one such company in the area. Nothing definite.

We could go west and hunker down for the winter in British Columbia. Or we could find an extended stay in another city like Ottawa. We flip flop on an almost daily basis.

It still seems unreal that we are in this position.

I started to look at buying a house again.

Lorraine was not happy with me on that front. She is not ready to abandon our dream.

I remain frustrated and angry with a situation that I can neither control nor influence. Forced to find alternate living arrangements at odds with our current lifestyle.

In a way, it feels like the state has given us a prison sentence in the form, literally, of a house arrest. The exact words from the government of Canada:

Canadian citizens and permanent residents are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The best way to protect yourself, your family and those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in our communities is to choose to stay in Canada

With the land border closed, we have no choice but to stay in Canada. And with provincial governments apparently willing and able to close their borders to other Canadians, we may have little choice but to stay in Ontario.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has taken one of the provinces to court. You can learn more about the case over here. Should cases spike in another month or two, I expect many provinces will impose similar restrictions on the ability of Canadians to move about in their own country. At issue for the CCLA:

Bill 38 is Newfoundland’s COVID-19 “emergency law” that was enacted 7 weeks after the emergency was declared. The total number of cases in the province at the time was approximately 17 and that number was decreasing for an entire month with the exception of one day.

Bill 38 gives “inspectors” – as defined by the Minister – the ability to conduct warrantless searches and gives the police the right to remove individuals to a point of entry, such as an airport or ferry terminal. The province has also used a Special Measure to ban non-residents from entering the province, with limited exceptions. This amounts to a Newfoundland “travel ban”, as well as essentially legalizing banishment.

We think this is unconstitutional. Provinces with much higher population densities and COVID cases than Newfoundland have been effectively managing the COVID crisis without resorting to these extreme measures.

CCLA has taken the position that these emergency measures violate numerous Charter rights including mobility rights, the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.

On May 5, Kim, a Newfoundlander residing in Halifax received one of the toughest phone calls of her life. Her mother, whom Kim had visited every year and talked to on the phone every day, had passed away unexpectedly in Newfoundland. Kim knew about the emergency laws enacted the day before and sought an exemption. Kim had arranged to go to great lengths, including self-isolating at her parents’ house via a back-door entrance to the basement for 14 days. She had even arranged with the funeral director for her mother’s body to be held until Kim’s 14-day self-isolation was completed, at which point the funeral could be held. And she had already been working from home and following the social distancing guidelines of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Kim initially did not receive a response from the government despite emailing and telephoning the number listed on the government’s COVID website. When she did, she was horrified to learn her request had been denied. Kim’s father would have to bury Kim’s mother, his wife of 55 years, without his daughter Kim.

Another factor that might force us to stay in Ontario until this pandemic runs it course? Plate shaming. Plate shaming is now a thing in Canada. Vehicles being keyed and nasty notes being placed on the windshields of cars that brandish an out of province license plate. This happened to a Canadian with an out of province registration:

At this stage of life, my desire is to live peacefully and to avoid encounters with COVID-19 vigilantes. We ran into a few of them during the early days of this pandemic. With mandatory masks, I wear them as required. With social distancing, I practice keeping myself isolated from large gatherings. Since this pandemic started, I rarely go out anymore. I see a handful of people at my church where I work on producing the livestream services. Otherwise, I spend most of my time in our coach.

I feel sad and somewhat depressed.

I guess six months of pandemic living starts to take its toll.

The thought of having to store the coach hasn’t helped.

Canadian Snowbird Association

The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and improving the rights and privileges of travelling Canadians. They have over 100,000 members and we are part of that membership.

The CSA were instrumental in helping full-timers gain access to their sites when the Ontario government abruptly reversed their position on opening campgrounds in April. Initially campgrounds were considered essential businesses and, a week later, the government decided to declare them non-essential.

We were caught in the middle of that nonsense and it left us uncertain as to whether we would be able to find a place for our coach for the season. The CSA lobbied on our behalf and an exemption for snowbirds was put in place.

After discussions with the office of the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the CSA is pleased to announce that an exemption has been formally put in place for snowbirds who reside at seasonal campgrounds. The Ontario list of essential workplaces has recently been amended to include seasonal campgrounds on a limited basis for snowbirds who do not have another residence. In addition, the Minister’s office will be communicating this updated directive to all of the parks and campgrounds in the province.

Our park was not aware of these changes back in April and I notified them about the exemption. As a consequence, 28 couples that full-time were able to return home to our park for the season.

We recently asked the CSA if they are advocating for snowbirds to cross the border into the United States in the fall. The answer in a moment. First, a bit of context.

The 2018 Canada-Florida Impact Study demonstrated the significance of the relationship as Canada is Florida’s most important international economic partner. Over 3.5 million Canadians visit Florida each year and Canadians spend more time in Florida than any other state in the US due, primarily, to Canadian snowbirds. There are at least 500,000 Canadian snowbirds that travel to Florida each winter. The economic impact to Florida is significant.

The report provides the following overview of the importance of Canada to Florida:

To summarize the deep linkages between Canada and the State of Florida:

  • The total trade relationship between Florida Canada totals US$7.3 billion.
  • Florida exports US$3.1 billion worth of services to Canada, annually.
  • Canadian investors have brought almost 500 Canadian companies to Florida, directly employing approximately 43,000 people.
  • 3.5 million Canadian’s visited Florida in 2017, increasing their spending to US$6.5 billion.
  • Tourism generated more than half a billion dollars in tax revenue, more than enough to fund the public safety, transportation and library systems of Florida’s major counties.
  • In 2017, Canadian’s purchased more than US$7.0 billion worth of real estate in Florida, contributing to a Canadian real estate portfolio in Florida totaling US$53 billion.
  • Real estate purchases in 2017 contributed an estimated additional US$67.2 million to county tax bases, with existing properties owned by Canadians generating an estimated US$508 million for county coffers.
  • 18 out of Florida’s 27 Congressional districts export more than a quarter billion dollars’ worth of goods and services to Canada.
  • Overall, trade and investment between Canada and Florida creates over 600,200 jobs in the state.

With the Canada-U.S. border closed to land travel and no plans to reopen, many snowbirds are trying to decide what they will do this winter.

For those of us that travel full-time in our rigs during retirement, the uncertainty is uniquely challenging. The winters in Canada are harsh save for a few regions in southwest British Columbia. And the housing options are limited for short-term rentals.

We raised our concerns with the CSA.

Hi Evan

We are retired Canadian snowbirds living full-time in our motorcoach. We do not have a house. We spend 6 months in Ontario and 6 months in Florida. We have a 6-month contract with our resort in Florida for the winter.

We are not sure what our options are for this year. If we can’t go south we need to decide how and where we will spend the winter. The government appears to have no plan to reopen the border to the United States which is not helpful to snowbirds who have to plan their next steps.

Are you advocating with the government on behalf of snowbirds?

Please let me know if you have any insight.

Thanks.
Richard and Lorraine Cleaver

Evan is the Director of Research and Communications for the CSA.

This was his response:

Hello Richard and Lorraine,

We are advocating on behalf of our members with Canadian and American officials and agencies. With the increase in COVID cases in various U.S. states, the Canadian government is hesitant to open the land border with the U.S. prematurely. It should be noted that Canadian citizens can currently travel to the United States by air. That being said, you would still be subject to quarantine requirements in both the U.S. and Canada. Once we have more information regarding the land border, we will send out an email advisory to all members.

Best regards,

Evan Rachkovsky
Director of Research and Communications
Canadian Snowbird Association

We responded to Evan by saying that we know we can fly. However, our coach cannot fly.

And his response:

Public health officials in Canada are examining the land border closure each and every day. Of course, the recent spike in cases stateside has not helped. We are pressing officials on this issue. As soon as we have more information, we will send it to members.

Will the CSA have much luck? Are U.S. lawmakers pressing Canadian officials to reopen? Is the latest tariff on Canadian aluminum due, in part, to the Canadian government refusing to reopen the border? Is reopening the border somehow tied to the U.S. election? Is the fear of COVID-19 so significant that we cannot effectively implement a system that requires a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all travellers?

I have no idea.

I do know that public opinion in Canada is massively against the border reopening.

Is it possible that the government will make an exemption for snowbirds to cross?

Perhaps. Although we know of many snowbirds that are simply taking a pass this winter. The economic impact on Florida will be significant but many snowbirds are aghast at the COVID-19 numbers in the U.S. and in Florida and fearful for their health.

Until those COVID-19 numbers come down, I don’t see much hope for a border crossing in the near future.

How Much Longer?

Two to three years. Perhaps longer.

Our chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, is telling Canadians that the pandemic could continue until 2024.

Countries around the world have put in place unprecedented lockdowns and travel bans, shutting down entire sectors including service, hospitality and tourism, along with other non-essential businesses.

Tam is warning that provinces may need to crack down again if infections spike.

Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy public health officer, said this:

People might think that if we get a vaccine then everything goes back to normal the way it was before. That’s not the case… All of the measures we’ve put in place now will still have to continue with the new reality for quite some time. Certainly I think that we need to temper people’s expectations, thinking that the vaccines can be that silver bullet that will take care of everything, and everything we’ve done up to now won’t be necessary in the future.

Our health officers have given us so many reversals that I remain somewhat skeptical of the claims and advice coming from them and from the Canadian government. Virus risk, mask wearing, border controls, flattening the curve, surface contamination, mass gathering protests, rules and regulations have all seen dramatic changes and reversals.

What about some hope and a vision for the future from our leaders?

Something more than just an unending series of rules, regulations, lockdowns and travel bans?

I chuckle when I read all of the stories coming out of the United States about the record-breaking number of people travelling en masse with their RVs. Perhaps there is some truth to it and maybe the July numbers will show record-breaking levels of new RV production. But give your head a shake. Does it really make sense to go out and buy an expensive motorcoach or RV during a public health crisis in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s with millions out of work and just prior to another potential economic lockdown?  To get away from it all for a week or two at a crowded campground?

If all of those stories about record-breaking RV sales have some substance then we will soon see stories about buyer’s remorse. Perhaps reading this article on 7 Good Reasons Why You Should Never Buy An RV might be helpful if you are thinking about joining the mad dash to buy an RV during COVID-19.

Packing It In

Time to make a decision. In another ten weeks, we will have to leave our current site. Unless the border to the United States reopens for land crossings, we have no place to go.

The probability of the border reopening? The Canada-U.S. border could be closed for months.

Canada and the U.S. review their border closure agreement every 30 days. Several experts in different fields have told CBC News that they predict the border won’t reopen until sometime next year…

Given public opinion, economist Moshe Lander said it would be “political suicide” for Canadian politicians to contemplate reopening the border right now.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians, scared to death of COVID-19, want the border to remain closed. As of now, I see nothing in the short-term that will change the minds of Canadians and, by extension, the politicians that have imposed these measures to reduce or limit mobility rights.

For some bizarre reason, we can cross into the United States by air. Just not by coach. That is a problem for us as we live full-time in our coach. Canadian winters are not particularly conducive to the RV lifestyle. We would not willingly choose to live in our coach during an Ontario winter. It was bad enough in April and May of this year. There is a reason why so many Canadians choose to be snowbirds when they retire.

This is what things looked like in May:

Lorraine and I spent several hours yesterday going through our scenarios for the fall. We considered four potential scenarios:

  1. Continue with our original plan to head south to Florida end of October
  2. Head west to British Columbia
  3. Put the coach into storage and fly south or fly to Europe for six months
  4. Put the coach into storage and stay in the same area of Ontario for the winter

We weighed the pros and cons of each scenario. Underlying each option is something that we cannot know: the impact of COVID-19 in the fall.

It isn’t just the border closure to the south. Provinces have been putting up barriers to interprovincial travel. Other countries have imposed restrictions on travellers. We could be out of our home province and some public health official could make an order that would have significant implications on our ability to travel.

For example, we could plan to head out to British Columbia in the fall and, just as we make our way, a surge in COVID-19 cases causes the provincial government to shut down its borders to out-of-province travellers.

That specific example has already happened across several Canadian provinces. Our mobility rights were overturned in the interest of a public health emergency.

Restrictions vary across Canada even though the country is now open, for the most part, to domestic tourism. Each province has made it clear that the rules around domestic travel are subject to change at a moment’s notice.

Our best option while this pandemic runs it course is to stay in our home province.

We’ll put the coach into storage in October and rent a nice home, hopefully on a month-to-month basis. If things should change, we’ll pull the coach out of storage and resume our travels. Otherwise the coach will remain in storage until May 1st when we are able to return to our current site here in Ontario.

Being locked up in Ontario because of COVID-19 was not a consideration when we first began planning the lifestyle. Hopefully this pandemic will pass in another year and we can resume our lifestyle.

We will really miss our friends and our church in Florida.

And the sun and warmth.

Wear A Mask

I’m really not sure how to react to some of these stories. But fair warning. If you come to Canada, we take the whole mask thing very seriously.

This is what happens if you refuse to wear a mask when ordering a donut. For my American friends, yes, the language spoken is French but I don’t think you need much in the way of translation. The man tells the police officer that he has a right to order without wearing a mask. It doesn’t end all that well for him. Ironically, the third police officer throttling the man is not wearing his mandatory mask.

The above video might get taken down and if it does you can watch David’s take on the incident.

In Ontario, the outcome for not wearing a mask could be deadly. This senior wound up losing his life for not wearing a mask at a grocery store.

We are in a region where we have a mandatory mask requirement when in public indoor spaces. And we wear a mask when required.

We are pretty much staying put in our coach these days. Seems safer than wandering about the country.

Not a great time to go to a donut shop.

Not a great time to go shopping for groceries.

Not a great time to be travelling in a motorcoach in North America.