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The House: Canadians are losing patience with the border closure

The federal government says it's taking no chances. Its critics say Ottawa is taking its time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed the Canada-U.S. border to regular cross-border shopping trips and vacations for more than a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed the Canada-U.S. border to regular cross-border shopping trips and vacations for more than a year.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Darryl Dyck

RCI

For many Canadians, the ban on most travel to and from the United States — in place now for 15 months — borders on the excessive.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says he gets it, even as he defends the decision to continue with the cross-border restrictions for at least another month.

Let me acknowledge that we've heard very clearly from our border area mayors and from communities across the country that have been impacted by these restrictions. We're certainly hearing from some of the American interests as well, Blair said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.

But while the border closure has been stressful for the families kept apart by it, and awkward for the people barred from visiting vacation properties and cross-border shopping, Blair insisted that protecting Canadians' health remains the government's priority — and it won't move on the border until it's safe to proceed.

I want to be really clear with you and with Canadians that we rely very much on the advice we receive from our public officials, from scientists in the medical community, he said.

Save the summer, MPs say

On Monday, Blair is expected to announce when, how and to whom the border will be reopened for non-essential travel.

But patience is running thin. Frustration is building.

At this week's Liberal caucus meeting, a number of MPs representing ridings that depend on tourism and other cross-border travel called for the border to be reopened before the critical summer vacation period is gone. Those appeals went unanswered.

Millions of Americans and Canadians are counting on our governments to work together to reach an agreement that provides a clear roadmap for reopening the border between our two nations, he said in a media statement.

The lack of transparency surrounding these negotiations is a disservice to our constituents and the millions of residents on both sides of the border waiting to see their loved ones, visit their property and renew business ties.

Blair said the two countries are working together on a reopening plan. He acknowledged, however, that there are still some wild cards in the mix — such as the fact that travel restrictions remain in place between some provinces.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says a "further easing of restrictions" will have to wait until Canada hits its vaccination benchmark.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says a "further easing of restrictions" will have to wait until Canada hits its vaccination benchmark.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Adrian Wyld

Frankly, our concern is about the protection of Canadians. And so for people travelling from the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, we want to make sure that when they come to Canada, they can do so safely and don't put Canadians at risk, he said.

But when a significant portion of this country is fully vaccinated — we think that threshold, at least on the advice so far from the public health agency, is approximately 75 per cent — that's going to set up conditions where we can move to further easing of restrictions.

The vaccination campaign is approaching that target. Until it hits the mark, the Canada-U.S. border remains a barrier — a line that can't be crossed for at least another month.

Chris Hall (new window) · CBC News

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