All over the country we’re starting to see a slow re-opening of many parts of society as we adjust to living with Covid-19. Every province is taking different approaches, some being more aggressive than others. While Quebec has gone as far to re-open many schools on Monday, today neighbour Ontario will be announcing the re-opening of golf courses. It’s been interesting to watch how each province goes as this is turning into a social experiment of its own as everyone figures its way through this.
But while every province figures out relatively smaller decisions like the opening of golf courses or restaurant patios, there are some much bigger decisions looming out there that will have a big impact on us all. One such decision involves what we do with our border with the United States, when we re-open it or to what degree. Today we’ve had a small development there, giving us a bit of an idea of the immediate future beyond the May 21st expiring of the agreement to keep it closed:
This piece of news isn’t surprising and really another extension of the agreement between Canada and the US on the border was expected. Despite the Americans moving faster to re-open their economy, they’ve shown less interest in re-opening their international borders with us or Mexico. And honestly, that’s probably to our benefit at this point because whenever our American neighbours start to press us to re-open we will have a big dilemma on our hands.
One thing that all of our political leaders seem to agree upon right now is keeping the US border closed. It’s very rare when you see leader like British Columbia’s John Horgan, Quebec’s François Legault and Ontario’s Doug Ford all in such firm agreement on anything. So to see them in unanimity on keeping the border closed speaks volumes about the situation and how people feel about this topic. It’s especially understandable when you see how things are playing out to our south. It was just yesterday that the US adjusted their Covid-19 modeling again, which now predict that more than 147,000 Americans will die from the disease by August. That compares with models from just a few weeks ago that predicted only 74,000 Americans would die by the same period. As of writing this, the US has surpassed 82,000 deaths.
Those models have been rising mostly because of the re-opening of states and how they are doing it. We’re seeing some states take things much less seriously than others. If you wanted a great glimpse into how divergent the approaches of some states have been, just look at yesterday. Within a couple hours of each other, Arizona announced they were allowing pro sports without fans as of this weekend while near by California was announcing they were cancelling all in-person classes at their state universities for the fall, while moving classes online.
That disjointed approach is not just dangerous for Americans, but it’s one that raises risks for neighbours like us. So it was with that in mind that I had a news piece from the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis, Minnesota come across my social media on the weekend. One of their reporters made a visit to International Falls, Minnesota, reporting on the closed border. The piece jumped out a me for a couple big reasons, and let’s see if you can spot them:
International Falls is a community I know well. It’s a hub for many in the region, both on the American and Canadian sides. If you like in places like Fort Frances or Rainy River, Ontario, you shop there, you go to restaurants there and if you want to go to the movies, the only movie theatre in the region is there. In my last year of high school when I lived in Rainy, that’s a drive we would often make, going across the border for that. And like many who live in the region, folks have family on both sides, as do I. It’s a community that’s as true a neighbour of ours as you can get.
Yet despite that, parts of that piece really jumped out at me in a way that was a bit unsettling and spoke to not just the moment we’re in, but the dangers we face with the border and Covid-19. First thing that jumped out at me were the comments from the restaurant owner about not being able to “get any first-hand information from anyone across the border”. That’s an extremely strange comment to hear, especially given that we live in such an advanced technological age. Sure, you could just do a simple Google search or look at local news sites on the other side of the river. But even if you don’t want to do that, Covid-19 hasn’t shut down the phones, nor has it stopped local radio stations, which I should mention broadcast on both sides of the river. That gentleman spoke as if he was living on the border with North Korea or with the old Soviet Union during the Cold War, which was quite striking given how much we know about what’s going on in their country.
But that is only the appetizer to go with the next part, the feeling that “Canada has been stricter” than the United States. There seemed to be a general sense of befuddlement about that fact, one that struck me the hardest of all. For those folks who live the closest to us, who see the lower number of cases compared to what they’re going though, you’d think they would wonder how they could do things better on their end. Instead though it seems more like there is a sense from those folks that “hey, you’re too strict.” And in that thought, you find the Canadian dilemma in a worrying nutshell.
The fact is that as much as we care about our American neighbours and have cherished the friendship of many on that side of the border for generations, they right now are the biggest threat we face when it comes to Covid-19. The fact that their country is far from being united on the facts of Covid-19, let alone in their fight against it. We’re seeing the death numbers rise and rise, and the actions of some states putting more lives at risk in the process. And then some of them wonder why we might be stricter?
The answer to that question should be self-evident but sadly it’s not to many down there. Usually I would expect our American neighbours closest to us, like those in places like Northern Minnesota, to get it. But when even they seem confused by it, how can we expect folks from further flung places like Arizona, Texas, Florida, or Indiana to get it?
The danger here is real and honestly, it’s not personal. Our saving grace right now is that at this moment the current American President seems to have no interest in fully re-opening that border, but that won’t last forever. Eventually the pressure coming from those Americans who want to go fishing, hunting, and vacationing in our country will push this president to do what he does, and likely as erratically as possible. Eventually we are going to have to face up to that decision and I hope that our political leaders keep that unanimity in place. And to our American neighbours, it’s not that we don’t like you, not at all. We like you a lot. It’s just that you’re scaring us right now with your response (or lack thereof) to Covid-19. We hope that you’re able to get yourselves sorted out but until that time comes, we cannot run the risks your visits will bring. We’ll be happy to have you back someday, but now’s not that time.