TORONTO – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer may have been a no-show during TIAC’s panel discussion yesterday but the key takeaway message was still clearly conveyed: reopen the Canada-U.S. border and reopen it now.
The Parliamentary & Congressional Panel, hosted by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), featured esteemed speakers like Susie Grynol, President & CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Member of Parliament, Liberal Party, Tori Barnes, Executive Vice president, Public Affairs and Policy for the U.S. Travel Association, and U.S. Congressman Chris Jacobs, New York’s 27th District, who graciously filled in last-minute for Senator Schumer.
The virtual discussion took place ahead of this morning’s news that Canada will be extending its border restrictions on non-essential international travel for another month, until July 21. The news was tweeted by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair this morning, who said “our number one priority as we fight COVID-19 is keeping Canadians safe.”
Though the continued border closure will most certainly be disappointing to travel professionals on both sides of the border, it comes on the heels of more positive news by the CBC this morning about the federal government’s plans to implement its first phase of its vaccine certification program in early July, for travellers entering Canada. The ArriveCan app will allow travellers to upload a photo of the proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before going through customs, reports CBC.
But as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has stated, the border reopening and the lifting of travel restrictions will be a gradual process. The federal government has already announced that it plans to lift the mandatory 3-day hotel quarantine requirement for returning Canadians as early as July, but specific details including the actual start date are still unclear. Now the question remains: will enough be done in time to salvage the all-important summer travel season?
“Without a clear plan in place, we will lose a second tourism season in a row, Canada’s vibrant tourism industry could lose the local unique attractions we treasure, the global events our cities compete to host and the anchor businesses like hotels that enable small-town tourism and commerce to exist,” said Grynol. “Our hotel operators are receiving countless inquiries from potential guests with just one question: ‘When can they open travel?’ Everyone needs the federal government to table a comprehensive, evidence-based, smart border initiative to allow us to be ready to welcome guests back safely – and the science backs it up.”
Last month, the federal government’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel released its report about border measures, recommending the end to the hotel quarantine and stating that “border measures must be simple, easy to understand, equitable and consider both benefits and harms.”
Added Grynol: “Our members are fully supportive of the expert panel’s report. The time has come for us to transition away from mandatory hotel quarantines and towards a smart border reopening plan. The government’s recent announcement to allow fully vaccinated Canadian travellers to re-enter Canada, without quarantine requirements, is a step in the right direction. But COVID doesn’t discriminate by citizenship and we shouldn’t either.
“The border policy needs to be rooted in science and the science says that fully vaccinated travellers should be exempt from quarantine. COVID does not check your passport at the border.”
Speaking to the issue from the U.S. perspective, Barnes reported that each month that travel from Canada remains at a standstill, the U.S. economy loses US$1.5 billion in potential travel exports, which is enough to support more than 10,000 American jobs. She went on to state that if travel from Canada returns to just half of late 2019 levels in Q3 and Q4, an additional $3.3 billion in U.S. export income will be generated.
“This, in our view, is achievable if and only if the expected loosening of quarantines affecting air travel from the Canadian government is coupled by a fully reopening of the land border,” said Barnes. “This is a step in which the United States can and must take an active role and prioritize immediately. We’re very much pushing on a plan to reopen these international borders. As we continue to have increased vaccination here in the U.S., we should really be able to welcome folks from Canada and from all over the world.”
Congressman Jacobs, who grew up in Buffalo, spent every summer at his cottage in Fort Erie, Ontario, and also married a Canadian, echoed Barnes’ urgent call to lift travel restrictions between the two countries. A vocal proponent for the reopening of the border, he went so far as to introduce legislation called the Northern Border Reopening Transparency Act, which calls for the Biden administration to report back to Congress on what was being done on a bi-national basis in terms of a reopening plan.
If the border situation remains closed – as it has now been confirmed that it will – Jacobs suggested that the U.S. “should look into doing something unilateral on the American side” and that, based on the science, the two countries “should, at minimum, be able to allow vaccinated people to cross over.”
Erskine-Smith, also a vocal advocate for borders reopening, hammered home the fundamental point to “follow the science” and lift restrictions, as recommended by Canad’as expert advisory panel. Referring to Canada’s phased approach to reopening, including the lifting of the hotel quarantine, as positive, especially as it relates to family reunification, he argued that momentum isn’t happening fast – or further – enough.
“In phase one where we have proof of immunity on both sides, we can immediately reopen the border for fully vaccinated individual for the sake of family reunification, for the sake of cross-border commerce and for the sake of Canadian and American businesses that depend on travel,” said Erskine-Smith. “Reopen the border based on vaccination rates. I will continue to call for this not as a decision maker per se, but as someone who can continue to push for the governments to move more quickly. We all need to raise our voices and say we need a safe and science-based reopening.”