Business groups have no record of Peterborough councillor asking for information

Four New Brunswick business organizations are casting doubt on claims by a Peterborough city councillor that he sought information from groups like them before embarking on a 10-day road trip to the province.

Stephen Wright told CBC News on Monday that he tried to contact chambers of commerce and business associations ahead of time to see how restaurants were faring with reopening, to no avail.

"Those calls were made," he said. "They were never returned." 

But four such organizations say they have no record of any such calls or emails.

"We've never heard from him," said Luc Erjavec, the Atlantic vice-president of Restaurants Canada.

"We're a phone call away, so we would have loved to have talked to him, shared our experiences, hooked him up with some operators to speak with. So no, we had not heard from him." 

Similar answers came from two chambers of commerce in two cities Wright said he visited.

"I checked with all of our staff members and we do not have any record of Mr. Wright attempting to contact the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce via phone or email," said spokesperson Morgan Peters.

Sylvain Montreuil of the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce said he had checked three different chamber email accounts and "we didn't find any 'correspondence' from Mr. Wright."

Louis-Philippe Gauthier, director of provincial affairs for New Brunswick at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business had the same answer.

"We have no record of the councillor reaching out to us." 

Questions continue about trip

Submitted by Stephen Wright

Wright's 10-day trip to New Brunswick, from May 14 to 23, has sparked questions from political leaders and outrage on social media, given a ban on non-essential travel into the province due to COVID-19.

The province has launched an investigation into what provincial enforcement officers asked Wright at the border and what he told them. That investigation is ongoing, Public Safety spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said Tuesday. 

Premier Blaine Higgs has said the trip "does not seem like a legitimate reason to come into the province."

Wright says he stayed at a private home while in the province, in a "separate self-contained  unit" away from another person living there.

He won't say where he stayed or who he stayed with, but says by doing so, and by staying in his car when he did his research, he was complying with New Brunswick's requirement that new arrivals self-isolate for 14 days.

The first-term councillor said he's involved with economic recovery efforts in Peterborough and wanted to see whether New Brunswickers were "now in a frame of mind that they were willing to go and do in-room dining" in restaurants.

He said he did "a lot of preliminary work" in advance to research the issue but was not able to get any responses from organizations representing restaurants. 

He also said there's a difference between "getting something secondhand, or getting it firsthand."

Wright did not respond to a request for a follow-up interview Tuesday.

Information available

Jacques Poitras/CBC

Erjavec said he has plenty of information at his fingertips on how restaurants are faring now that they can reopen under the yellow phase of New Brunswick's recovery plan.

He says he surveys members regularly and also worked with the province to develop reopening guidelines, so he would have responded eagerly to a request from Wright.

"I'm talking to members on a daily basis and have a real feel for what's happening in the industry," he said.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling, one of the first to raise concerns about Wright's trip, says several parts of his story have not withstood scrutiny. 

"Something is not adding up here. I think people are very angry about this particular case and one of these days, perhaps we'll find out what really happened."

Darling plans to speak to Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien on Wednesday. Therrien said in a statement Monday that the trip "was not at council's direction or the mayor's direction."

Wright said Monday the trip was his own initiative. He said he was paying for it himself and would not claim travel expenses.

Method of research questioned

Erjavec also questioned the way Wright says he went about his research while in the province. The councillor said Monday he didn't actually enter any restaurants. 

"I didn't need to. There were ample amount of restaurants with parking stalls in front of the restaurant and you can look right in," he said.

"I drove past a Tim Horton's and there was one individual in that particular Tim Horton's and the drive-thru line was unbelievable."

Asked about restaurants in downtown locations where there were no parking lots, Wright said, "I wasn't in the downtown core. I drove to places where you could actually see from outside."

Erjavec says judging a restaurant's success from its parking lot is not the best way to assess how it's doing. 

"As a leader in his community, it's incumbent on him to get the facts, and you get the facts by asking questions, by talking to people, researching, and not just simply having a cursory glance," he said.