Ahead of a meeting between provincial and territorial health ministers and their federal counterpart on Friday morning, Ontario’s government asked Ottawa to implement a “single national approach” to international travel and Canada’s borders.
During Friday’s meeting, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu sought input from the provinces and territories about how Canada should reopen international travel. The ministers discussed a report released May 27 by a federal expert panel that recommended Canada scrap its hotel-quarantine system in favour of a shortened quarantine requirement for travellers depending on their COVID-vaccination status.
iPolitics reported on Thursday that Hajdu, in seeking input from the provinces and territories, might get more questions than answers. That’s because provincial governments are divided on how to approach Canada’s borders, with Ontario and Quebec asking for stricter measures, while Alberta is pushing to ease restrictions.
In a letter sent to Hajdu and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on Friday morning, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones proposed a national approach for international travel, saying Ottawa shouldn’t put the burden on provinces to manage thirteen separate systems to track international travellers.
Specifically, Elliott and Jones recommend that Ottawa facilitate “safe international arrivals” for fully vaccinated travellers, and implement a quarantine approach for unvaccinated travellers that is “enforced and effective.” They also asked that Canada’s approach be consistent between land, air and water arrivals.
“While we have yet to see effective measures at Canada’s borders, it is never too late to do the right thing,” the letter reads.
Elliott and Jones said the COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Panel’s report, which recommended the change to Canada’s quarantine system, confirmed Ontario’s position: that existing federal measures have “failed to keep devastating variants out of our country.”
One of the report’s recommendations was to make land and air border measures as consistent as possible. That’s something Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has repeatedly blamed his province’s third wave on COVID variants originating outside of Canada, has argued Ottawa needs to address.
“We need the federal government to become serious about our border measures, both land crossings and, of course, air crossings,” Elliott told iPolitics on Thursday. “We need to make sure that if people are coming in, that they need to follow the quarantine measures.”
Friday’s letter proposed that, for fully vaccinated international arrivals, proof of vaccination “that is recognized by Health Canada and our international allies” should be required. Mandatory COVID testing that facilitates genomic sequencing to identify variants should apply for those arrivals, too.
For essential travelers who are not fully vaccinated, Elliott and Jones proposed a testing and quarantine approach “that is enforced, effective and consistent” across all points of entry.
In contrast to their provincial counterparts, the federal Conservatives released a statement ahead of Friday’s health ministers meeting urging the government to provide “metrics” and “benchmarks” for when Canada can resume international travel, citing the “many families and loved ones” who have been separated by border closures.
For at least three months, the federal government has also been exploring the idea of COVID-vaccine passports, documents to prove a citizen has been vaccinated before he or she can enter another country. Two weeks ago, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he couldn’t say when such a system would be in place.
“This morning, I met with Health ministers from provinces and territories to talk about vaccination, measures at the border and proof of vaccination,” Hajdu said in a statement following Friday’s meeting.
“There are many points of view on measures at the border, and we’ll continue these discussions to ensure Canadians are protected,” she continued.
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