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‘It defies logic’: Americans want to know why Canada won’t reopen the border now


‘It defies logic’: Americans want to know why Canada won’t reopen the border now

WASHINGTON—Many Canadians who live in the U.S. were celebrating Wednesday’s announcement in Ottawa that pandemic border restrictions may be somewhat loosened by mid-July. “I’m in tears!!! I just hope this applies to all provinces, I want to go home!” one member of a Facebook group for expatriates wrote.

But the announcement by Health Minister Patty Hajdu contained no plan to allow fully vaccinated Americans to travel into Canada, and no timeline for such measures to be introduced. Among Americans who’ve grown impatient with Canada’s reluctance to ease travel restrictions, the reaction was stunned disappointment.

“It defies logic,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who is chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus.

“Not good enough,” Rep. Chris Jacobs, a New York Republican said in a statement.

“It’s a tremendous disappointment,” said Maryscott Greenwood, the CEO of the Canadian-American Business Council.

“Once again the Canadian government has failed to respond to the needs of the shared cross-border community,” Chuck Schumer, the powerful Senate Majority Leader, told the Buffalo News.

John Adams, an American who lives in Florida and owns a home on Vancouver Island, has been running ads in Toronto and Vancouver to advocate for reopening the border to fully vaccinated Americans after crowdfunding for that purpose. He was floored by the announcement. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” Adams said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statements in recent weeks hinting at a lifting of some restrictions had gotten Adams so hopeful that he’d prepared a “thank you” ad to run this week and already booked accommodations on the U.S. side for a planned road trip to get to his B.C. home later this month. “It was all just a mirage, like water in the desert that only he could see.”

Adams now plans to increase his critical ad spending in Canadian markets. “I just went down and wired an additional $10,000 to my media buyer in Vancouver,” Adams says. “Trudeau’s been kicking the can down the road and he is running out of road, and I am not running out of ads.”

Adams belongs to a loosely affiliated group of Americans who found each other through social media — some own property in Canada, others have loved ones and social ties north of the border. . His objections to the Canadian plan so far mirrors those expressed by politicians and business leaders.

First: Americans — including the 42 per cent who are so far fully vaccinated — unable to visit Canada at all unless they fall into one of the “essential worker” categories. Second: there are no specifics to any plan for further phases of reopening.

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That’s a frustration shared by some north of the border — especially in places and industries dependent on cross-border travel. Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, ON, says that many businesses in his city are “just clinging on” because the American visitors who typically make up 50 per cent of tourism revenue have been cut off.

Diodati says he’s embarrassed when he speaks to mayors of neighbouring U.S. cities in New York state where 60 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated and where virtually all pandemic restrictions have been lifted. “They say, ‘What are you guys doing? What are we waiting for?” he says. “You know, it’s frustrating.”

It may also be a competitive disadvantage. “You hear some of the American businesses saying, ‘Hey, it’s been great for us, because Niagara Falls, Canada gets significantly more tourists than Niagara Falls, USA,” Diodati says. “So, the Americans, if they can’t cross, they’re just gonna stop there. And they’re gonna spend their money there.”

Higgins, the Democratic member of Congress, says it goes beyond economics — the restrictions cut off whole cross-border lives for his constituents who own cottages in Fort Erie, and who have friends and family in Canada they’re used to visiting regularly. What’s most frustrating to him, he says, is that these decisions seem not to be based on the science in which Trudeau’s government has so long professed faith.

“The pronouncements of the Canadian officials (Wednesday) defies logic and basically says everything we told you about the last 15 months is bulls—,” he says.

He gives the example of a U.S. couple visiting their own cottage in Ontario: “How the hell does that pose any public health risk? It doesn’t,” he says. “I’m following the science, I’m following the data, I’m fine following the facts. And our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made very clear that if you have been vaccinated, you pose a very low risk of getting or giving COVID and therefore you should be able to travel.”

His sense of exasperation is a rare point of bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress. Jacobs, his Republican colleague, recently introduced a bill to compel the Biden administration to present a report detailing communications with Canada about reopening the border. CBC analyst Alex Panetta characterized it as “a threat to essentially start leaking details about what’s gone on behind the scenes.”

Jacobs, perhaps predictably, did not see the Canadian announcement as progress. “Vague announcements with arbitrary restrictions on fully vaccinated individuals are not good enough,” Jacobs said in a statement to the Star.

Greenwood, who was a U.S. diplomat in Canada before heading up the Canadian-American Business Council, says that among the most “unfortunate and troubling” aspects she’s seen is the prospect of Canada and the U.S. implementing differing border policies. “What we’re seeing happening this week, in recent weeks, is a decision for the U.S. and Canada to agree to be asymmetrical, after having worked so hard at the very beginning of the pandemic to be hand-in-hand with each other about how we deal with it.” That’s a break, she says, from how the two countries have dealt with border issues for generations. “Like not just my lifetime and yours, but our parents’ and our grandparents.’”

Higgins hints at something similar, speaking of distrust emerging as “collateral damage” to the process. However, Higgins says he remains optimistic that things might change after President Joe Biden and Trudeau meet at the G7 summit this week. It’s a hope I heard echoed by many of those I spoke to. “Those are the only two individuals that can change this. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says,” Higgins says. “They’re both in a position to do something about this and they ought to do something about it.”

Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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