GRANDE PRAIRIE (NEWS 1130) – While British Columbians are being discouraged from doing any non-essential traveling, a northern Alberta city is still very happy to see shoppers from B.C.
“When you go to the Costco on Saturday, you still see numerous B.C. licence plates in the parking lot,” says Larry Gibson, board chair of the Chamber of Commerce in Grande Prairie, Alberta. “We are 45 minutes from the border.”
The city of 69,000 is 130 kilometres from Dawson Creek, B.C., and has long been a shopping mecca for people living in the Peace River Region. They are attracted by the big box stores, big-city amenities, and the fact shoppers are not subject to the provincial sales tax.
“We are unique in the way we are so linked. We are a bit of a border town. We are a hub for shopping and people from all over the region take advantage of it,” explains Gibson, who points out many British Columbians also come for medical appointments. He says visitors come from as far away as Fort Nelson.
Large oil and gas companies are constantly crossing the border, as operations span the region. The Montney oil and gas field, for example, straddles Alberta and B.C., so goods are constantly travelling across the border.
“A lot of our major oil companies have to do business on both sides, so Alberta plates are constantly going that way and B.C. plates coming this way.”
He says having guests from B.C. who are travelling when they shouldn’t isn’t a concern.
“To be honest, it is not. Our economies in this region are so intrinsically linked,” he notes. “We welcome them with open arms. That’s been the norm for so many years. They come here to do their business or their shopping, whether it be retail or healthcare services.”
The B.C. government has been under pressure to explore ways to limit travel. In January, the premier decided not to ban interprovincial travel, after examining the legalities. On Tuesday, he said he is open to the idea of travel restrictions, but he reiterated the logistical challenges, especially given many people cross the border to work.
The latest COVID-19 numbers released on Thursday show the Peace River Region’s infection rate has soared in the last seven days. There have been 164 cases identified in northeastern B.C. in the last week, and based on per capita infections, it’s the province’s biggest hot spot, besides Fraser South.