The federal government is softly pushing back against an effort from U.S. Congress members to reopen the border with Canada amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying any decision will be made “by Canadians, for Canadians.”
A bipartisan group of 29 federal lawmakers led by New York representatives Brian Higgins and Elise Stefanik sent a letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf late last week, urging both countries to “immediately craft a comprehensive framework for phased reopening of the border.”
The group also calls for interim measures to ease restrictions on family members and property owners, particularly those with property only accessible through cross-border travel, and “restore the social bond that unites our two nations.”
“We hope that our legacy of binational cooperation would lend to the development of a thorough plan to protect the health of our shared communities and reinvigorate them in this time of recovery,” the letter reads.
The Canada-U.S. border was shut down to all but essential travel, including transportation of goods and work-related travel, on March 21. The closure has been extended by 30-day periods after assessments of the COVID-19 pandemic in both countries, pushing the deadline most recently to July 21.
The Congress members argue those regular extensions have created “unnecessary tension” and uncertainty for individuals and the shared economy,
“Continuing to extend border restrictions at 30-day intervals is untenable for the communities that have been separated from family and unable to tend to their property for over three months,” the group argues.
Higgins, a Democrat, and Republican member Stefanik are co-chairs of the Northern Border Caucus, which focuses on cross-border commerce and investment as well as border infrastructure.
In response to the letter, a spokesperson for the office of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said while conversations between Canada and the U.S. about the border are ongoing, “both sides agree that the current measures in place” have “worked well.”
“Our absolute priority is the health and safety of Canadians,” Katherine Cuplinskas said in an email. “That is why we want to be clear that decisions about Canada’s border are made by Canadians, for Canadians.”
Cuplinskas did not give any suggestion either way as to whether the July 21 deadline will be extended yet again.
Public polling has suggested Canadians are mostly supportive of the decision to keep the U.S. border closed to limit the spread of COVID-19, and has remained steadfast as cases have surged south of the border at an alarming rate.
The U.S. topped three million infections Wednesday, just 28 days after crossing the two-million mark — cutting by nearly half the time it took to grow from a million to two million cases.
Spikes in several states have lead to continuous record-breaking daily case counts, which have been blamed in part on aggressive moves to reopen local economies.
A Globe and Mail/Nanos poll released Monday, three days after Higgins’ and Stefanik’s letter was sent to Blair and Wolf, found 81 per cent of those surveyed want the border to remain closed “for the foreseeable future.”