The backdrop: The Trudeau government announced last week that fully vaccinated Americans will be allowed to enter Canada on discretionary travel starting August 9.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision came against a backdrop of rising vaccination rates in Canada and a drop in the number of Covid cases and hospitalizations.
Days later, the Biden administration renewed its restrictions on non-essential travel on US-Canada land and ferry crossings until at least August 21. U.S. officials cited the continued spread of Covid in the United States and around the world as well as the Delta variant emergence as factors.
The US decision was met with frustration. For months, families separated from loved ones, business leaders and lawmakers have stepped up pressure on President Joe Biden to relax border measures or at least provide a detailed plan.
The border, which is a key source of economic activity for communities on both sides, has been closed to discretionary travelers since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The requirement for clarity: In their letter, the governors said the U.S. call to expand border restrictions was worsening the already significant economic impacts of the pandemic on northern border communities and states.
“We are writing to request additional information – preferably in the form of a detailed briefing – regarding COVID-19 travel restrictions impacting the US-Canada border,” the governors wrote.
State leaders said they were specifically interested in knowing what kind of information the federal government based its decision on the border and the steps needed to reopen the border.
They also urged the administration to clarify how the government plans to assist affected communities and “any other obstacles that may exist to the timely implementation of a thoughtful and clearly defined reopening plan.”
The letter was signed by Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Jay Inslee of Washington, Janet Mills of Maine, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Doug Burgum of Dakota of North and Phil Scott from Vermont.
And after: Canada will begin welcoming vaccinated American visitors on August 9, but there is no indication that the United States is ready to begin reopening its land crossings to Canadians, even on August 21.
All eyes – and political pressure – will be on the White House over the next few weeks for any hint that the United States will ease border restrictions.
Last week, following the Trudeau and Biden decisions, top Canadian and American envoys insisted that countries remain committed to a coordinated easing of border restrictions – even as they move at different speeds. Canadian Ambassador Kirsten Hillman noted that US rules have allowed Canadians to travel to the United States throughout the pandemic, while Canada has restricted travel and flights at land borders.