Briggs Pumps and Plumbing Limited is one of several essential businesses taking a stand on only performing emergency work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just because I’m an essential worker doesn’t mean every aspect of what I do is lawful,” said owner Peter Briggs, who has been serving the Muskoka area for 35 years. “I’m not allowed to work on any new construction work, unless it falls under specific guidelines, no new renovations; anything that’s not considered essential isn’t legal to do right now. Secondary residences are non-essential dwellings. By turning them on, we’re contravening [Premier Doug] Ford’s laws. If he’s telling people not to come to their cottages, to stay home, and we’re opening them, we’re in violation of what he’s asking people to do.”
Briggs said while it was a hard decision it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship between cottagers and locals, especially the businesses here. We rely on cottagers and that’s why it’s hard to come out and say it and I think a lot of people don’t want to come out and say it because they don’t want any negative backlash from cottagers,” said Briggs. “But my experience in the last few days is very, very few cottagers are not understanding. The seriousness of the pandemic is ratcheting up every day. It’s only a small few causing the problems.”
Two of the other essential businesses only performing emergency work are McCormack’s Cottage Maintenance and Security and Blaine Jackson of Straightline Plumbing. Briggs said their seasonal customers also support their decision not to open their cottages at this time.
“Ford shut down everything. There’s nothing to do up here. Marinas will not release boats for non-residents, boat launches are shut down, fishing season is shut down. Fishing season doesn’t need to be shut down for the reason of social distancing; fisherman don’t normally get together in a big group and fish within five feet of each other. That’s not the reason. They’re trying to deter people from coming up because there’s nothing to do. You can’t go swimming, boating or fishing.”
Briggs said the situation requires patience from everyone.
“I can totally understand it. If I was cooped up in an apartment in downtown Toronto with 400 other people and you’re worried about catching it from your neighbour every time you go out and touch an elevator or something, I’d be very tempted to come up here where you’re out in the open and not exposed to anybody,” said Briggs. “We’d love to have you [cottagers] up here, but right now this pandemic supersedes the start of cottage season. Once it’s over you can come to the cottage and things will resume.”
Typically April is a slow month for Briggs with work increasing in May. Currently, Briggs and just one other employee are working where he would normally have two or three two-person crews comprising a plumber and an apprentice.
“When it really comes down to what’s essential, we’re talking about permanent residents who have an emergency that needs to be dealt with or they can’t stay in the house,” he said. “It is what it is. Everybody is suffering. We all have overhead costs. I can’t complain about my business. There’s a lot of businesses completely shut down and it’ll be very costly for them.”
Briggs said it comes down to a crisis of conscience.
“I wouldn’t want to open one cottage where that person infected the community or they picked up the virus from our community. I have to sleep at night,” he said. “We know what the right thing to do is, we know what the lawful thing to do is. This will be over and when it’s over cottage country will open. But the longer we don’t adhere to the rules and do what makes sense then the longer it’s going to drag out and the beginning of summer will drag out. The bottom line is you’ve been told to stay home. A secondary residence isn’t home.”
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