The federal government is remaining tightlipped on its plans for reopening the border as next week’s deadline for temporary measures is set to expire.
On June 21, Ottawa announced the first phase of its plan to ease border measures for travellers coming into Canada. As of July 5, fully vaccinated passengers who are allowed to enter no longer have to quarantine or take a COVID test. Temporary restrictions that apply to non-essential travellers were extended to July 21.
Further easing of measures would be largely based on Canadians receiving second doses of the vaccine, said Madeleine Gomery, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, in an email to iPolitics.
“We recognize people are anxiously awaiting to open the border and as Canada reaches high levels of vaccination coverage and the COVID severity trends continue to decline, the risks associated with international travel will decrease, (allowing) a phased approach … to ease border measures in step,” she said. “The finish line is when a significant majority of Canadians – approximately 75 per cent – are fully vaccinated.”
Gomery said further easing of measures will be considered as the pandemic situation warrants, with prioritization made for travellers who have been fully vaccinated. She said more updates will be provided over the coming weeks and months.
Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli, a special adviser on tourism recovery, said the federal government has yet to produce a safe and responsible reopening plan.
“I’d like to see that plan,” he said. “I’d like to see what their options are with regards to opening the border to allow fully vaccinated visitors into Canada.”
Municipal leaders have also been eager to see what the Liberal’s plan for reopening looks like.
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said in an email statement that reopening the border should be based on science, not politics.
“We’re suggesting borders reopen to fully vaccinated travellers and this is something that has been acknowledged by the medical community in Canada as ‘very very low risk’,” he said. “We cannot ignore the more than 40,000 tourism workers in Niagara and their families who are relying on a tourism season in Niagara Falls after a 16-month long hiatus in order to continue to put food on the table. It is time to learn the plan, and get it in place.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she hopes Ottawa will unveil either a plan to reopen the borders or allow for fully vaccinated travellers to come in. She said she has been in close contact with the mayor of Port Angeles, Wash., and both are looking forward to when cross-border travel returns.
“It’s really important to our economy,” Helps said. “It’s important to a lot of people who have family on either side of the border. Victoria’s economy is … certainly boosted by visitors from the south.”
Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Christian Provenzano said he supports the federal government’s cautious approach. He said the city’s tourism industry has been hit hard but other businesses have fared much better such as local golf courses.
Provenzano said he appreciated how Ottawa has handled the land border so far and trusts in whatever decision that’s made following July 21.
Tourism Association of Canada president and CEO Beth Potter said reopening sooner would have had a larger impact on businesses but at least if restrictions are eased there can be some planning for the fall season.
“Revenue would be a welcomed thing,” she said. “The wage and rent subsidy programs have started to taper off in the anticipation that businesses will start to generate their own revenue again. You can’t take away the subsidy and keep the border closed or you’re going to have a whole bunch of businesses that close their doors permanently.”
The federal government has also been getting pressure to ease restrictions south of the border.
On July 6, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a post on his website said it was time for the U.S. and Canadian governments to provide a clear plan.
“For over a year, we have been told to follow the science, facts, and data, it’s time for the U.S. to do the same and finally take the first move in good faith to safely reopen the border to vaccinated Canadians,” Schumer said.