The signals from both sides of the Canada-United States border this week could not have been more different.
On this page, the Prime Minister of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Doug Ford, who has repeatedly blamed travelers for the third wave of Covid-19, posted an ad condemning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not closing the border, as Mr Ford once again called for more restrictions. New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer and the powerful majority leader went to an airport near the Canadian border to say he had asked Biden government officials to quickly come up with a “transparent, bilateral, and public” plan for reopening the limit to develop.
While no one else seems to be guessing when the border will reopen, interest seems to increase on that day as more people in the United States become fully vaccinated. However, several experts agree that returning an open border will likely require more than just vaccinations.
“Any opening of the border, a return to normalcy, is very, very far away,” said Aaron Ettinger, Professor of Political Science at Carleton University, who specializes in relations between the two countries. “But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any advance planning of what a reopening would look like. The last thing we want is for us to be in a situation where we can think about it but have absolutely no idea how to go about it. “
Since March 20, 2020, the Canadian government has revised, and sometimes expanded, the Cabinet Order that sets out the border restrictions every month on the same day the United States makes a similar expansion of its regulations.
While a border closure is often described as an agreement between the two countries, government officials told me that talks between the two governments have been largely limited to coordinating when to extend the extension. After all, the two countries have taken very different approaches, even if business travelers such as truck drivers, healthcare workers who commute across the border, and those doing business in Canada were not blocked by any country or had to be quarantined.
But all Canadians can still travel to the US for some reason, provided they use a plane instead of a motor vehicle, train, their feet, or a boat to get there. Then there is no nationwide mandatory quarantine time when they arrive.
Canada also has a short list of non-essential workers admitted in: Canadian citizens and permanent residents; foreign students; Family members; foreign temporary workers, including those who go on farms; People who are allowed to enter for compassionate reasons; and, with special permission, professional athletes.
Key workers aside, all travelers entering Canada are required to present three negative test results and quarantine for two weeks. Air travelers must stay at a government-designated hotel for up to three nights to await the results of their arrival tests as part of their 14-day quarantine.
The result was dramatic. Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair said this week that international air traffic entries at airports have decreased by 96 percent and land border crossings have decreased by 82 percent. Federal officials told me that the majority of non-essential travelers are returning Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have constitutional re-entry rights.
Many public health officials deny Mr Ford’s oft-repeated claims that frontier workers are a major source of infection. Mr Trudeau said Friday that he asked Mr Ford a week ago which of the groups, other than citizens and permanent residents, would like to be removed from the list of non-essential travelers allowed to come to Canada. The Prime Minister, said Mr Trudeau, “did not come back.”
It does not appear that Canada has a solid reopening plan like the one Mr Schumer is aiming for. But what should such a plan contain? Professor Ettinger said there are obvious factors like a significant drop in the rate of infection in Canada and more vaccinations. Federal officials have said in the past that they need evidence that people who have been vaccinated cannot pass the virus on to others.
According to the federal government, an internationally recognized vaccination certificate for travelers is necessary. Several travelers have already been caught with fake Covid-19 test results, and two other people were fined this week.
The uncertainty surrounding travel is not confined to the Canada-United States border. Stephen Hiltner, my colleague at the Travel Desk, looked at the global travel scene and noted that “a number of swirling cross-currents – including an increase in coronavirus cases worldwide, delayed vaccine rollouts in tourist hotspots, and the lack of a reliable system to monitor vaccinations – could create the conditions for a slow and tortured return to high volume international travel. “
[Read: The Dream: International Travel. The Reality: Chaos and Confusion.]
Regardless of the schedule or date, Professor Ettinger said the somewhat sluggish and often confused experience of reopening the border following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States will require clear leadership and coordination between the two countries.
“The border has become more and more difficult,” said Professor Ettinger. “Once things get back to normal, I would expect significant cross-border technical coordination to avoid the kind of border disaster we’ve seen in various places over the past 20 years.”
Recognition…about the Calgary Theater
Sharon Pollock, the Calgary playwright best known for works based on Canadian historical events, has died at the age of 85. “In her pieces, she offered several perspectives on historical events,” said Anne Nothof, professor emeritus at Athabasca University in Alberta The Times. “Pollock was determined to create a theater that responds to the past and the present and challenges historical and personal assumptions.”
Researchers at the University of Waterloo, Lakehead University, and Trent University have identified the remains of a sailor from the unfortunate Franklin expedition of 1845 and used DNA from a living descendant to reconstruct his facial image.
Canada is not alone in having vaccines held up because of problems at a troubled Baltimore plant.
After their season begins in Florida, the Toronto Blue Jays will move north, but not far enough north to return to their hometown.
Connor McDavid is only 24 years old, but the Edmonton Oilers player is on the run. He is approaching a 100-point season, which few have thought possible with the NHL’s pandemic-reduced schedule.
Ian Austen is from Windsor, Ontario. He was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has been reporting on Canada for the New York Times for 16 years. Follow him on Twitter @ianrausten.
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