THUNDER BAY — Strolling through the Bay and Algoma business district on Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu stopped into businesses to visit and check on their well-being.
Hajdu, the MP for the riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North, has been in Thunder Bay since December when she stopped travelling after the province went into a state of emergency.
“I’ve just been able to re-emerge back into the community since we have been lifting restrictions here in this province,” she said.
Hajdu says many businesses are new, while some of them have been around for a while and have stories of hardship, opportunity and adaptation.
“All across the businesses that I visited, there is a key theme that I think is so moving, which is, they feel the community really stepped up to support them,” she said.
“So many small businesses have said that they really felt that Thunder Bay love of people supporting them.”
Hajdu described a visit at Finnport, where staff told her that people of all ages placing orders online really showed commitment to these small businesses.
“It’s really moving and there’s been tears shed today on this tour,” she said.
“At Portobello Home, the owner spoke of seeing people for the first time and having these conversations with customers, many of them she knows, and as she is telling me that, she is tearing up and I found myself tearing up because we’ve all survived that experience of being apart from one another.”
As the health minister, Hajdu was tasked with helping to navigate the country through the darkest times of the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a major toll on many people across the country.
“It’s been difficult to navigate the country through that,” she said. “There were so many different jurisdictional challenges, there were big, big decisions to make and I think every decision that any leader has to make during a crisis like this, you know that the decision will be difficult for so many people.
“There were very long days,” she says.
“I think people at all levels of the leadership have had to make excruciating decisions. If you think about the local level, how these decisions will impact businesses and their families and we’ve seen sacrifices by Canadians, some that we know and some that we’ll never know.”
Hajdu said there was great concern with the choices around vaccination, the anxiety and fear.
Hajdu says there were gruelling decisions on when and how to close the border, which would impact thousands of families and businesses, and how reopening it will impact them as well.
“How to support provinces and territories and its day-to-day trauma that Canadians have been facing? But it’s been such an honour to serve my country,” she said. “When you step up to lead, you don’t necessarily choose the world events that will come your way.”
As for the border reopening, Hajdu says she cannot predict if U.S. President Joe Biden will open the border to Canadians.
“It is relieving to have a partner to the south of us who is following science, who is looking at the data, who is being advised by medical officers,” she says. “We know these are difficult decisions, not just because of any risks that Canadians impose, but actually because of the risk of collapsing health care systems.”
Hajdu says if there are too many cases of COVID-19, even with high rates of vaccination, it puts systems at stress, and locally the impact of that was felt just a few months ago.
“I know my colleague (Public Safety Minister) Bill Blair is working closely with his counterparts and we’ve taken this decision to move carefully and cautiously with fully vaccinated individuals, and we look forward to their decision,” said Hajdu of the Canadian border opening to the U.S.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal