As an economist, Ambarish Chandra says normally he would argue for more open borders, but not lately when it comes to the Canada-U.S. border. Chandra argues that the border should remain closed indefinitely to non-essential travel due to the escalating COVID-19 situation in the United States, where several states are grappling with massive daily caseloads of the virus after having loosened public health restrictions.

“If you’d asked me six months ago ‘Do you think it’s feasible for Canada to close its borders in general?’ I would have said there’s no way Canadian citizens would agree to that,” Chandra, associate professor of economics at the University of Toronto, told the Star in an interview.

The border restrictions, first imposed in March, are being reviewed every 30 days. “I think it’s very much dependent on the public health situation in the U.S. and whether it appears that the cases are under control,” said David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The border closure has also proved to be popular with Canadians. A recent Nanos poll found that 81% of respondents favoured keeping the border closed to non-essential travel.

Canadian businesses have actually experienced “remarkable little disruption overall” as a result of the closure, said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, in a statement. “The key was the decision by Ottawa and Washington to keep the border open for essential goods and travellers,” he said. “As a result, Canadians continue to get the food, medicine, commercial goods, and other essential supplies they need to live and work, and Canadian exporters for the most part have not suffered disruption.”

But one sector that has suffered greatly — and will continue to suffer — is tourism, given the fact that the border closure affects non-essential travellers. Just over half of international visitors to Ontario are from the United States, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

“It’s pretty sad but we can understand why the border is closed and can’t open right now,” said Beth Potter, the association’s president and CEO. Potter said her association is strongly encouraging Ontarians to get out and explore different parts of their own province this year in a bid to keep local businesses afloat. “We need to support the local supply chain, we need to support local food producers and Main Street businesses,” she said.

Ontario’s tourism business traditionally generates $36 billion in annual revenue, but it’s looking more like $17 billion this year, Potter said. Statistics Canada reports that in April of this year, American residents made just 51,000 trips to Canada, down almost 97% from April 2019.

Hyder at the Business Council said Canada’s travel and tourism sector employs 1.8 million Canadians and contributes $102 billion to the economy.

“We should learn from other countries that have created safe corridors to allow non-essential air travel to and from jurisdictions that have demonstrated a high degree of success in their antivirus efforts,” Hyder said. “We can start by removing interprovincial restrictions that prevent Canadians from travelling freely within our national borders.”

Business travel is also of course affected, usually making up about one-third of total trips to Canada, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada. “Business travel is one segment that we may see come back more quickly,” once the border does reopen, he said. 

In the meantime, many businesses are adapting, said Mark Agnew, senior director of international policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “There are virtual ways of doing things, and certainly with the infection rates going up as dramatically as they are in the U.S., companies are mindful about their employees’ safety,” he said.

Canada, U.S. agree to keep borders closed another 30 days: sources

On July 14, CTV News reported that Canadian and U.S. officials have agreed to keep the border between the two countries closed to non-essential travel until August 21. When asked in May what the benchmarks will be for signs it’s an appropriate time to loosen travel restrictions, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the first step would be carefully reopening travel restrictions within Canada. She said drastically limiting who has been able to enter the country over the last few months — specifically international visitors — has been key to Canada controlling the outbreak.

Source: CTV News
Source: Toronto Star