After just a few days, the Town of La Ronge has flip-flopped on its request to be exempted from the northern Saskatchewan non-essential travel ban.
The province put increased restrictions in place last week at the request of many northern municipalities who are fearful of a COVID-19 outbreak in their communities.
The situation is particularly bad in the province’s northwest with La Loche experiencing a major outbreak.
Beauval and Lloydminster have also declared outbreaks.
When the provincial government announced increased northern travel restrictions last Thursday, it also said two communities – La Ronge and Stony Rapids – had asked for and been granted exemptions.
Only one La Ronge councillor, Jordan McPhail, voted against the council decision.
By the weekend, a petition was circulating in La Ronge asking council to reconsider its decision on the exemption for public health and safety reasons.
Reached Monday, La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich said he is not exactly sure what he voted in favour of in a special meeting the day before, but is confident that council has now asked the province to rescind the exemption.
The La Ronge Mayor added he has been unable to see a copy of the motion he voted on, as acting town administrator Dean Yaremchuk won’t let him see it until the minutes are approved at the next council meeting.
Neighbouring communities Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band have been in favour of the travel restrictions from the start.
Air Ronge Mayor Gordon Stomp said La Ronge’s request for the exemption created an unworkable situation.
“What a dilemma,” he said. “I mean we’re in between the town and the band (LLRIB) and the town threw it wide open. So, the province allowed anyone who was travelling to the Town of La Ronge to go right through. They could just bypass our community but they couldn’t stop them. So how would that ever be policed?”
The Air Ronge Mayor said he now wants to move on from the situation and hopes the three communities can work together to make the restrictions that are in place as effective as possible.
This includes a joint request sent to the provincial government from Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band asking the province to provide necessary supports so the checkpoint on Highway 2, just south of the communities, can be effectively staffed.
La Ronge has been without a chief administrative officer for almost two years.
The last person to fill the position, Stephen Conway, abruptly quit in late August 2018 after leveling serious accusations of corruption, racism and homophobia against council.
Acting administrative officer Dean Yaremchuk is a partner in the company HMC Management and is fulfilling the role on what is supposed to be a temporary basis.
As part of HMC’s contract with La Ronge, Yaremchuk is also supposed to be helping the town conduct a search for a new administrator.
He has been serving in the position since November 2019.
Voters are slated to go to the polls in municipal elections this fall.
UPDATE – On May 6, the province officially rescinded the exemptions from the travel ban for La Ronge and Stony Rapids.
(PHOTO: A checkpoint shown here on Highway 2, just south of La Ronge. Photo by Sam Campling.)