Here’s what happened between Friday, June 18—when Nova Scotia premier Iain Rankin first expressed concerns about New Brunswick’s Canada-wide opening plans—and today, June 24, when a Progressive Conservative MLA was tossed from the party for joining the highway blockade between the NB and NS border.
Friday afternoon, June 18
At one of their standard COVID-19 press conferences, which happened to be two days after New Brunswick opened its borders to travellers from all over Canada, Rankin and chief medical officer of health Robert Strang said they’d be watching New Brunswick carefully.
“They are certainly introducing a higher level of risk into their province,” Strang said at the time.
Tuesday morning, June 22
During a radio segment with News957, Rankin said he was looking at adding modified restrictions for anyone coming to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick. He offered no details.
Tuesday afternoon, Smith-McCrossin gets involved
Following Rankin’s morning comments about likely restrictions on New Brunswick travel, PC MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin took to social media at 12:34 p.m. to say if Rankin indeed goes through with the restrictions, her Cumberland constituents should join her and “show this government what we think.”
Her next post, a live video at 2:51pm—just minutes ahead of that day's COVID-19 briefing—said the premier has until 4pm to reverse restrictions or she and her residents will block the Trans-Canada Highway. In the video Smith-McCrossin accused Rankin of having a “vendetta” against NB premier Blaine Higgs.
In the past the MLA has aggressively opposed blockades, when they take place on rail lines in unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. She has also publicly made racist comments and, separately, been accused of racism in a human rights complaint. Now Smith-McCrossin's pro-blockade stance in support of travellers from majority-white NB puts her bias in sharp focus.
Later Tuesday afternoon, COVID briefing
Premier Iain Rankin announced quarantine requirements for New Brunswickers, just hours before the scheduled start of the Atlantic bubble, and did not tell his NB peer premier Blaine Higgs.
“I tried to get a hold of New Brunswick officials last week, we were hoping to learn more. Myself and the other Atlantic premiers were supposed to have a call last week that never happened,” he said. “But we had to modify our isolation requirements based on (New Brunswick’s) plan to open up to the rest of Canada.”
The premier did not directly answer a reporter's question about a possible blockade.
Tuesday night, blockade begins
Sometime around 10pm, the first protesters block off the land border with their vehicles. While the crux of the protest is supposed to be around allowing family visits, some protesters have voiced anti-vax sentiments and the blockade is denying the passage of truckers who regularly cross the border, as well as preventing hospital workers from getting to Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, shuttering services.
Wednesday, June 23
At about 12:30pm, PC leader Tim Houston released a statement saying his heart is with Nova Scotians “impacted by the premier’s casual flip flop.”
“The premier has not been able to explain his decision, which, of course, has led to more outrage,” reads the statement. Houston said Rankin’s last minute change is a result of “weak leadership”
Houston did not call for the blockade to end at this time.
“I heard about it after the fact. Closing the highway isn’t the answer. But it speaks to the level of exhaustion and exasperation felt by an entire community,” reads the final line of his statement.
Hours later Houston’s tone changes. In a session on Zoom with reporters he says this blockade “needs to end now.”
“To everyone protesting, your point has been made. Your frustrations are very clear, the last-minute changes the premier made were unfair to you. But blocking goods and services, seafood products, pharmaceutical products and blocking people from families is not OK,” Houston said over Zoom.
Wednesday afternoon, Rankin and Higgs chat
The NB and NS premiers finally talk at an Atlantic premiers meeting.
Wednesday night, blockade ends
The Cumberland County district RCMP said by 10pm Wednesday, June 23 the illegal blockade was dismantled peacefully. The blockade lasted about 24 hours, and led to three arrests.
Thursday, June 24
Houston announced at 11:20am that Smith-McCrossin has been removed from the PC caucus, meaning she will no longer be allowed to run as a PC in upcoming elections. The PC leader said in his discussion with Smith-McCrossin she “refused to acknowledge any wrongdoings” which showed a lack of personal responsibility, reads a statement.
Smith-McCrossin quickly took to Facebook, where she said she will never apologize for “doing my job to represent my constituents.”
“As PC leader, Mr. Houston has every right to change his mind after he previously supported me. He told me he wished he hadn’t said what he did in the media in support of me. Again, I respect Mr. Houston’s right to change his mind. But my conscience will not allow me to sacrifice fighting for my constituents, the job I was sent to do in 2017, to comply with a party leader, just because he changed his mind.”
Thursday afternoon, restrictions switch
Rankin began today’s COVID-19 briefing saying the past 24 hours have been “hard to watch.”
Following the Wednesday conversation with premier Higgs, Rankin announced that beginning next Wednesday, June 30 at 8am, all restrictions on New Brunswick travel will be lifted. He called Higgs to tell him of the new plan beforehand, he said.
When asked if tensions leading to the blockade could have been prevented with earlier conversation between NB and NS, Rankin put the blame on Smith-McCrossin.
“The blockade was organized by an opposition MLA and people who were upset,” Rankin said. “I’m glad that Tim (Houston) has finally backtracked on his support for her actions.”