Despite repeatedly urging Canadians to stay home for Easter amid the coronavirus pandemic, even if it meant not seeing their families, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending the decision to go see his.
The pandemic forced Canadians across the country to abandon hopes of travel to see loved ones and also came amid warnings from public officials for people not to travel to cottages unless that is already their primary residence — and really, just not to leave their homes at all.
But shortly after calling on Canadians to “stay home” and “Skype that big family dinner,” Trudeau crossed the provincial border from Ottawa into Quebec to visit his wife and three children at Harrington Lake.
Harrington Lake is the name of a federally designated heritage building maintained by the National Capital Commission that serves as the country residence of Canadian prime ministers.
While only a half-hour drive from Ottawa, getting to the residence requires crossing the provincial border into Quebec, something police recently set up checkpoints in a bid to limit.
Trudeau defended the travel when questioned by journalists on Tuesday at his daily briefing.
After three weeks of my family living up at Harrington and me working here, I went to join them for Easter weekend. We continue to follow all the instructions from public health authorities,” he said.
Yes, but did somebody tell you this was OK?” asked the journalist.
All over social media, people are wondering why this exception was OK for you, why it was OK for you to go see your family at the cottage.”
My family has been living there for three weeks,” Trudeau repeated. “This is where my wife and my children live.”
Speaking on background, a government official said the prime minister should be considered an essential worker and, therefore, allowed to cross the border into Quebec.
The official also suggested the travel should be viewed as the prime minister travelling between his work location and a new primary residence for his family.
But the Trudeaus live at the 22-room Rideau Cottage in Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood — that was where Sophie Grégoire Trudeau completed her quarantine after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
That diagnosis came on March 12, and her quarantine ended on March 28.
It’s also the neighbourhood where his children have for years attended school — not in Quebec.
It is not clear why Grégoire Trudeau and the Trudeau children have decided to live there or why they chose not to come back to Ottawa for Easter.
Unlike from Ottawa into Gatineau, non-essential travel from Gatineau into Ottawa is not restricted — however, it is possible that had the family returned to Ottawa, they might not have been allowed to go back to their country residence afterwards.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged Ontarians not to travel to cottages over the Easter weekend.
Please, this long weekend, do not go to your cottage. We can’t stress that enough,” Ford said last week.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault was asked about Trudeau’s trip by journalists on Tuesday.
Specifically, one asked him whether he worried the visit set a bad example.
What do you say to Quebeckers who say well, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did that, I’ll do the same thing?” the journalist asked.
“No comment,” Legault responded.
Trudeau isn’t the only leader facing questions about his Easter travel, either.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, his wife and five children flew to Ottawa on Friday ahead of the Saturday wage subsidy bill vote on a nine-seater government aircraft along with the Green Party’s Elizabeth May.
The close confines of a small aircraft raised questions about why he would bring his wife and children with him when physical distancing cannot be realistically practised on board.
A spokesperson for Scheer said the flight was scheduled to go from Vancouver to Ottawa and stopped to pick up the whole Scheer family in Regina.
Scheer defended the move as requiring less travel than if he had to fly back and forth every time the House of Commons sits, and his spokesperson said the family will now be based in Ottawa until June.