Reopening the Canada-US border will be a long and piecemeal process


The Donald Trump era began in 2015 with the promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Five years later, the Trump era could end with citizens in much of the rest of the world – Canadians in particular – insisting on a virtual wall between them and the United States.With the United States adding 40,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, the European Union leaves the United States on a list of 15 countries whose citizens will soon be allowed to visit its 27 member countries. In Canada, there does not seem to be much desire to quickly reverse the unprecedented border restrictions imposed in March.

The question for Canadians is how long the virtual wall will have to be in place – and how much it could affect its continued existence.

“I guess it will have to be closed for more than 12 months,” Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, told CBC News this week. “It is hard to imagine what will happen in the United States until we have a vaccine or until the population is infected enough for you to have collective immunity. “

Canadians in no rush to reopen

When Léger Marketing asked Canadians in May when they thought Canada should reopen its border with the United States, 47% of respondents said “not before the end of the year”. With more than 2.6 million cases in the United States, Canadians’ enthusiasm for welcoming our American neighbors is unlikely to have increased since.

An exemption for “essential” travel has significantly reduced the disruption to the Canadian economy. “Canadians continue to get the food, medicine, business goods and other essential supplies they need to live and work, and most Canadian exporters have not been disrupted,” said Goldy Hyder , President and Chief Executive Officer of the Business Council of Canada. .

But the decline in traffic across the border has always been precipitated. According to data obtained by Postmedia, between June 15 and June 21, only 170,998 people entered Canada during a land crossing with the United States – and 104,247 of these people were truckers. During the same period in 2019, more than 1.2 million people crossed a land passage from the United States to Canada.

Based on these figures, the pandemic will leave a deep mark on the Canadian tourism industry and on border cities like Windsor and Sarnia, Ontario. Hyder and the Business Council called on the federal government to extend its tourism wage subsidy for the rest of the year.

Damage could be long-lasting

But it cannot be assumed that the exemption for essential business travel and the widespread use of videoconferencing will prevent all damage to the economic relationship between Canadians and Americans.

“People say, okay, well, the trucks are leaving, so the supply chains are working. But supply chains reflect agreements and contracts that have been made in the past with a lot of face-to-face interaction, “said Bill Anderson, director of the Cross-Border Institute in Windsor. “If these agreements are not concluded now, the question is – what will the supply chain look like in six months to a year? ”

Nor can it be assumed that cross-border travel will quickly return to its normal pre-COVID-19 level once the threat of the disease has passed, Anderson added. Traffic between Canada and the United States declined significantly after September 11, 2001 and did not fully recover to its previous levels when the pandemic struck.

Beyond economic concerns, there are personal hardships – families are still separated by border restrictions. An exemption introduced in June only applies to “immediate” family members such as spouses, parents, children and guardians.

A pandemic raging in the United States

But all of the complications associated with the current restrictions must be weighed against the significant health risks of reopening the border – and the economic disruption that would occur if COVID-19 resumes in Canada.

Furness said his 12-month suggestion was not meant to be completely accurate. “It is a very, very rough idea,” he said. “I just want people to get used to the idea that it may not be next week or next month. ”

But its projection is based on the belief that COVID-19 has now spread too far into the United States to be contained. “I guess the genie is so far from the bottle that there is not even one left,” he said.

In these circumstances, it may be difficult for an industry or community to argue that the border should be reopened. But accepting that a return to normal is unlikely in the near future could refocus the discussion on what, if anything, can be done to find a new standard that is even slightly less restrictive.

No baby

“I don’t think the solution is to say, ‘Let’s choose a date and say, OK, the border is now open.’ In fact, I would say that maybe ‘open’ is not the right term to use” said Anderson, who also sees COVID-19 as a long-term problem. “I think what you need to do is try to find rational and safe ways to ease some of the restrictions. ”

Anderson said that expanded tests (likely conducted far from the border crossings themselves) could allow some travelers to cross if they can prove that they have recently been negative. The effectiveness of this approach will of course depend on the accuracy of the tests.

Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at West Washington University, said the current exemption for family members could be extended to include the extended family as well as grandparents. Furness would also look into family reunification.

“I would really like us to reconsider this in the long term,” said Furness of the current family member policy. “Say:‘ This is going to be in place for a long time, now how can we alleviate the worst suffering? ‘ “

Two friends kiss during a visit to the Canada-United States Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, British Columbia, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

If it meant that many more people were crossing the border, then testing could be a useful policy, said Furness. But he suggests that what is currently a “small net” of cross-border travelers should only become a “slightly larger net” – no unnecessary tourists or business trips. He said that international students should always be allowed to enter Canada, but he would like more clarity on what constitutes “essential” travel.

The border restrictions put in place in March have been extended three times and are scheduled to expire on July 21 – officially, at least. Even if the agreement is only extended for a month, it is probably time to accept that a largely closed border between Canada and the United States is, like the disease itself, our reality in the future. predictable – and plan accordingly.

“Right now, I think everyone’s responsibility is to understand how we are going to live with this thing,” said Anderson. “Because it might not go away for a long time.” “


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