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The Loss of the Bathurst Air Canada Station and the Need For Better Empathy

The Closure of The Air Canada Station

This pandemic is creating a strange new dynamic. On the one side, we are trying to continue with our lives, both personal and professional. Still, most of us have begun to hesitate at the precipice of ordinary life. This hesitation used to be reserved for large jumps or the edges of some foreboding cliff. Now I see people psyching themselves up before getting on a plane, going to a restaurant and entering a store.

This dynamic makes our professional lives a particular challenge. Do we travel for work? For those who have to travel, it might not be an option, but the feeling of home safety has never been more omnipresent. Northern New Brunswick is a microcosm of this dynamic. Best exemplified by the reaction to the Zone 5 phase back and the lack of response to the Air Canada Station’s loss at the Bathurst Regional Airport.

Everyone has a different threshold for the risks they are willing to take. Do you go out to dinner at a crowded restaurant? Or do you like me at this moment, get on a packed plane to St. John’s to pick up a truck because it could save you money in the long run. How do we, as proprietors of a regional economy, address this significant variance in risk tolerance. Entrepreneurs come in all different shapes and sizes, some take moon shots, and some take baby-steps. The world needs all of them; however, an economy cannot survive with baby-steps alone.

Northern New Brunswick, during the month of June, highlighted how a low-level of risk tolerance and tolerance of other kinds can wreck a local economy and relationships between neighbours.

A few days after the province was moved to the yellow phase, a mild outbreak begun in Campbellton. Zone 5, which runs from St. Quentin to Belledune, was immediately slid back to the orange phase. Even though our neighbouring Zone 6 was just days removed from themselves being in the orange phase, the level of fear and risk avoidance began almost immediately. Stores, golf courses and restaurants started to ban people from zone 5. Even worse, there were several reports of healthcare professionals denying service to people from Zone 5. These were people who always travelled to Zone 6 for services, keeping in mind these zones were created based on arbitrary maps that had very little to do with people’s actual flow. Fear makes us do ridiculous things. I don’t mean to assail Zone 6, after all, that’s where my office is. Instead, I wanted to contrast it with the almost non-existent reaction to the Air Canada station’s closure at the Bathurst Airport.

I can understand the business case that Air Canada has put forward for closing down most of the airports in Northern New Brunswick and Gaspe. As I sat in Stanfield International Airport, realizing the truly shocking reduced number of people travelling, their case became evident. When this closure occurred, it drastically affected the lives of entrepreneurs in the region. Adding hours of travel and additional cost to people’s ability to reach their career goals or grow their business. Did we see people react like they did with less than two dozen out of 60,000 got the Coronavirus? Of course not. Because the way people conduct risk evaluation is not always logical, or equitably applied to different situations.

I’m on a plane, so I can’t look up the stats at the moment. Still, I can say with almost absolute certainty that more people die on New Brunswick highways during the year than have from the Coronavirus. This statement is not meant to diminish vigilance and an appropriate amount of caution when it comes to Covid transmission. If numbers remain stable, by the time we get a vaccine, we stand to lose more lives through the additional highway travel than we are from Covid-19. This added risk is especially acute down highway 11. Which I concede didn’t need twinning before but sure as hell does now.

The risks are enormous but not universal. Meaning that although I may face exponentially more risk driving to catch a flight in Moncton or Halifax, it does not affect the risk my neighbour faces. As such, they will be disinclined to care.

And this indifference is to the risks that others must take. A lack of empathy for others’ situations is why restaurants in Beresford refused service to people from zone 5. It is also why there is almost no noise about the closure of the Bathurst airport.

In light of all of the introspective and self-assessment at the moment, I would recommend a bit of exercise in developing more empathy for your neighbour’s struggles. Certainly, if you can only move your empathy dial for one cause, there are much better causes than the experience of the entrepreneur. But chances are you can muster a bit of empathy for more than one cause.

When all of this is over, we will be dealing with record inflation. A population that was already ageing and will now be terrified to travel and spend their money. And a complete reconfiguration of how we work. If we cannot travel from our home airport, then our economy will eventually sputter out entirely, and it will be incredibly hard to jump start it. Then we will all feel the brunt of the impact, not just those who travel for work.

In closing, empathy is one of the most laborious human interactions to master. It is by far one of the most important. And we have learned from the Zone 5 debacle that we still have a great deal of work to do on the subject. So please give a shit. It could eventually be your son or daughter hitting a moose outside St Margarets, desperately trying to catch a flight out of Moncton.

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