Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday July 14, 2020
When will it be safe to reopen the U.S. border?
How much longer can this go on? How much longer can the world’s longest undefended border remain largely sealed?
It’s an increasingly urgent question facing Canadian governments. Even with the U.S. border open for commercial business, and exceptions being made to allow families to reunite, our joint border is mostly closed. And the impact is huge.
This discussion is relevant this week for a couple of reasons. First, the current emergency border-crossing restriction package is set to expire July 21. Second, the government is facing mounting pressure from commercial interests.
The Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable, a coalition of 120-odd travel and tourism companies including Canada’s major airlines, last month sent an open letter to the government calling for the loosening of travel restrictions.
A second open letter was sent by Canada’s airlines and many of Canada’s biggest companies including banks and telecoms.
On one hand it is hard to blame the tourism sector, which has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, for putting its economic interests first. But it is also more than a little troubling that airlines were quick to do away with social distancing minimums when we know they are crucial in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, it’s not up to the tourism/travel sector to make public policy. That’s up to the government, and based on what top officials such as Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland are saying, protecting public health is still the top priority. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We are going to be very, very careful about when and how we start reopening international borders.”
Something most people do not recognize is that cross-border traffic is already increasing thanks to loosening of some restrictions. The volume of traffic crossing land borders has increased from about 115,000 a week from late April to early May to 175,000 a week in late June. Officials say those figures include commercial and non-commercial traffic. The number of non-commercial highway travellers entering Canada has nearly doubled over that period, going from about 3,300 a week to about 6,500.
At the same time as Canada is allowing more cross-border traffic, the situation in the U.S. is deteriorating. As recently as the weekend states like Florida were announcing record new infections and deaths. Florida alone reported more than 15,000 new cases. American leadership is polarized, with the Trump administration basically in denial. Some states are rolling back reopening, others seem unwilling to do so despite exploding infection rates.
Worst of all, America has no apparent unified strategy to regain control. Even if Trump loses the November election, it’s predicted to take months to change direction and get COVID under control.
Under these circumstances, how on earth could Canada even consider significantly loosening border controls? Doing so would literally put at risk everything this country has done right to flatten the pandemic curve. All the work and sacrifice Canadians have endured would be at risk.
It is said that governing in these times is an ongoing struggle to balance safety with renewed prosperity. Fair enough. But on some fronts there can be no overall compromise. The U.S. is not a safe place to be, and Canada should not face further exposure until things change. That could easily keep the border closed until the end of this year, at least, say infectious disease experts.
It’s a sad reality with a great cost to Canadians and our economy. But we have no choice. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)