Next week will mark four months since COVID-19 really started to hit here at home and how so many things have changed since then. It’s a bit crazy to think back to how things were before this started, partially because how some things have changed so much but also because it’s been so long that we’ve been in this, with no end in sight.
One of the things that has changed that’s so striking is our border with the United States and the fact that it’s been closed for most of this time. Prior to COVID it would have been unthinkable that the border with our biggest trading partner would be closed, let alone for this long. Pre-COVID that prospect would have been politically and economically suicidal for any government or party that dared to utter the idea aloud, let alone actually do it. Yet here we are, with that border closed to non-essential travel, complete with all of the consequences that come with that.
Back in May I wrote a piece about the dilemma that we faced with the border and when to re-open. In that piece while pointing to the public health situation in the U.S., which has only gotten exponentially worse since then, I said that our biggest saving grace in Canada was that our American neighbours were not clamoring to re-open our border. But in the same piece, I also said that wouldn’t last forever and eventually we would face pressure from our neighbours to re-open ourselves to them. Well it has taken a couple of months, but that day seems to have arrived, in the form of a joint letter from members of the American Congress:
Yep, there it was, right on the eve of the July 4th holiday last Friday. The co-chairs of the Northern Border Caucus of the United States Congress released a bi-partisan letter calling on “the United States and Canada to develop guidance that prepares for reopening while the border is under its current shutdown.” They called on both governments to “immediately craft a comprehensive framework for phased reopening of the border based on objective metrics and accounting for the varied circumstances across border regions” and stated that “continual 30-day extensions without a plan for how restrictions will be modified prolongs uncertainty for both communities and creates unnecessary tension as we approach each new expiration.”
In the end, these American congresspeople want the border to be re-opened, which is the first volley of pressure towards that end which I’m sure will not be the last. Needless to say, this creates a very serious dilemma for we Canadians. Just this week Nanos Research reported that 81% of Canadians surveyed said the border should stay closed for the foreseeable future, which is the kind of result you almost never see in any polls. 80% of Canadians almost never agree on anything, let alone something so fundamentally important to our economic well-being, which speaks to the concerns that people are feeling.
It’s clear that the appetite isn’t there to re-open the border on our end, but then you can layer on top of that the fact that the public health situation in the United States is clearly out of control, something that Dr. Anthony Fauci made clear last week. Just yesterday the US recorded a new record for new single-day COVID-19 cases, surpassing 60,000 new cases on Tuesday July 7th alone. Compare that to the situation here in Canada, where as of yesterday we had a total of just over 106,000 cases since the start of January, period. Yes folks, in the span of a couple days at a time, the US is finding more new cases of this disease that we’ve had in over 6 months. If that’s not a clear public health risk to us here in Canada, I’m not sure what else you need to prove it.
The other part of this letter that I feel needs to be addressed is the part that points to the fact that “States and Provinces have created frameworks for reopening that rely on monitoring public health data, the expertise of health officials, and other defined criteria to inform government decisions on how to proceed with each phase of a reopen.” That’s true, but while here in Canada those frameworks and rules have been followed pretty well, the same cannot be said for the States. The fact remains that not a single US state met the science and fact-based requirements for re-opening that the White House laid out. While in many states, we’ve seen political leaders trying to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the crisis, only to have to backtrack when things got completely out of control, prime examples of that being Florida, Texas, and Arizona.
So given that track record, why exactly should be trust or believe that these same governments and politicians will obey or follow any guidelines or rules that might be negotiated in a re-opening of the border? Further to that, why should we trust that many Americans who have ignored or simply refused to obey these public health measures at home will do it when they enter our country? We just saw the story of two Minnesotans who got fined $1,000 in Fort Frances for refusing to obey those measures there when they entered the country, so I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll see a repeat of those elsewhere.
As Canadians we don’t agree on much, but in this moment, we’re looking to our South and seeing a disaster completely of their own creation playing out before our eyes. Between denial of the disease by their president, to the vexing culture war playing out over simple measures like wearing a mask, it’s clear that the United States doesn’t have its eyes on the ball when it comes to tackling this deadly disease. There are very practical reasons why other jurisdictions like the European Union and Mexico refuse to re-open their borders to American travelers, and those should be the same for us too To open up too soon would expose us to serious health risks that their inaction has created and undo everything we’ve done here for months to stop COVID-19. It would also open us up to having others closing their borders to us, putting us in the same COVID-19 isolation box that the United States have put themselves in.
We love our neighbours and look forward to hosting them again someday, but they need to get their medical house in order first. Keeping the border closed may be hurting us economically, but the pain we’d feel by opening it up too soon would be worse. So when it comes to the request from these American legislators, we simply need to say “don’t call us, we’ll call you” when it’s time to re-open the border. Now is clearly not that time and given the way things are going down there right now, the right time may be much further away than any of us might have ever expected.