French islands St. Pierre and Miquelon seek to join Canada's Atlantic Bubble: 'We’re so close'

'Every night when I open my window, and go out for a cigarette, I’m looking at Newfoundland'

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A little piece of Europe is asking to join Atlantic Canada’s travel bubble.

The local government in St. Pierre and Miquelon made an appeal to end the border closure between the French archipelago and Newfoundland in a letter earlier this month. Free movement between the international borders, separated by a mere 25 kilometres, came to a halt over a year ago.

The Atlantic bubble is set to open on April 19, allowing quarantine-free travel between Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The exclusion has cut off Steve Le Bars from visiting his children in Newfoundland, despite the proximity, he told NTV.

“We’re so close from each other,” said Le Bars, a tourism operator working in St. Pierre. “Every night when I open my window, and go out for a cigarette, I’m looking at Newfoundland.”

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Island residents are connected to Newfoundland via plane or a 90-minute ferry ride to Fortune. They helped provide $15 million in economic benefits to the province in 2016, said Chris Sheppard, executive director of Legendary Coasts. A letter signed by Bernard Briand, president of the territory, on April 1 asked the prefect to submit a unified message from local leaders requesting integration into the bubble.

“In joining [the Atlantic Bubble] we would be in a position to mitigate some of the obstacles to our international mobility – obstacles that are amplified by our territory’s isolation and small size,” the letter read.

Andrew Furey, the Newfoundland and Labrador premier, said including the French archipelago in the bubble requires federal action.

“Let’s be clear, that decision is squarely with the federal government,” Furey told CBC. “This is between Canada and France.”

St. Pierre and Miquelon has reportedly given more than half its eligible residents at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Friday afternoon, the territory had recorded only 24 COVID-19 cases in total during the pandemic.

For now, Le Bars’ hope of seeing his children after more than a year apart may come down to a willingness between Ottawa and Paris to work together to ease restrictions.

If “the epidemiology is reflective of it being safe and it’s OK with our public health and frankly aligned with the rest of the public health officials in the Atlantic bubble…. I wouldn’t personally have a problem with it,” Furey said last week.

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