HOULTON, Maine — The outcome of Canada’s Sept. 20 federal election could determine how much access Americans have to that country, given some of the parties’ concerns about current border crossing protocols.
The election is the day before the US border closure with Canada expires.
The issue of the border crossing into the U.S., as well as whether Canada will change its own border restrictions, weighs on the minds of many people living in border communities in the two countries. But none of the parties involved in the Canadian elections have given clear plans on how they would improve border conditions, nor on how they would prevent COVID-19 from entering Canada via border travelers.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election last month on Aug. 15, just a few days after Canada reopened its borders to fully vaccinated Americans who have produced a negative COVID-19 test result within the last 72 hours.
The election pits Trudeau’s Liberal Party against the opposition Conservative Party, led by Erin O’Toole, alongside other parties such as Bloc Quebecois, which seeks more sovereignty for the French-speaking Quebec province, and the more progressive New Democratic and Green parties.
Party leaders have debated on many issues throughout the campaign, including its land border with the United States. O’Toole and the conservatives have criticized Trudeau’s handling of the border, claiming that its reopening has led to new variants of the virus entering Canada.
Bloc Quebecois has pressured the government in Ottawa to provide a more detailed plan on how to progressively open the border further. The two parties have also chastised Trudeau for not better coordinating with President Joe Biden on reopening the U.S. border to Canadians.
Benoit Gomis, a researcher with the Pandemic and Borders research group at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said despite the parties’ criticisms, neither has given a detailed plan on how things should change.
“The Liberals are likely to continue with the current rules unless [the COVID-19 situation] changes dramatically,” Gomis said. “The Conservatives said they would not focus on mandatory vaccinations for travel and focus instead on rapid or PCR testing at all border entry points and airports, but didn’t really provide any details or evidence on how the testing would be done everywhere systemically.”
Gomis also said there was a lack of sufficient data to show how much Canada’s current rise in cases originated from cross-border travel.
“The federal government has been claiming that less than 2 percent of COVID-19 cases are related to travel, but contact tracing has been quite poor in Canada,” he said. “Even according to federal government data, 36 percent of all reported cases actually come from an unknown source.”
The number of Americans entering into Canada via land borders remains much smaller than before the pandemic. According to the Canadian Border Services Agency, approximately 6,000 foreign nationals entered into Canada’s Atlantic Region, mostly accessed via border crossings in Maine, the week of Aug. 30 through Sept. 5. That number is only about a quarter of how many entered during the same week in 2019.
Numbers from previous weeks after the reopening are at a similar ratio, as are numbers from other parts of the land border.
The small number of Americans entering means Canada’s tourism industry has yet to recover, and likely faces more hurdles as the fall and winter months approach and the delta variant leads to higher case counts.
In its survey for September 2021, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada noted that a third of its respondents expected more than 50 percent of their revenue to decline this year, and the same number said they lost between 75 and 100 percent of their revenue compared with 2019.
“The industry has lost two summer seasons, drained financial reserves, taken on massive debt and now has difficulty attracting enough employees as it strives to relaunch,” the survey noted. “Even with extensive vaccinations and the gradual lifting of restrictions, a bleak fall and winter is certain.”