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Canadian Expert Christopher Kirkey Discusses Border And Potential Canadian Elections

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Earlier this month, Canadian officials announced that on August 9th fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to enter the country through its land borders. There are caveats: travelers must prove they have been vaccinated and need a negative pre-departure COVID test.  All of the information must be presented at the border and must also be pre-filed on an official Canadian website.  SUNY Plattsburgh Center for the Study of Canada Director Christopher Kirkey says the rules Canada is imposing are not simple but not overwhelmingly complex.

"The truth of the matter is they're  more time consuming. It's a matter of data gathering and going through hoops. if you will. As a permanent resident and citizen of Canada when I recently crossed, for example, I think in many respects what the Canadian government is doing now is testing out these protocols because I'm pretty sure that those protocols will be the same as vaccinated Americans will have to go through. So what does that mean? It means you've got to of course be vaccinated, have had your two shots and have proof of that, in a print card that you can show to a board authority. You also have to have a COVID-19 negative test taken and from the time the test is taken and you get hopefully a negative result you've got 72 hours in which to get to the border. And then you've got to go into a portal, a government of Canada portal called ArriveCan. And it's designed to help facilitate your passage at the border. So you upload copies of your passport, for example, photos of your passport. You put in information about your COVID-19 status. And then of course you've got to input information about a quarantine plan. Where would you quarantine and how are you quarantining and that sort of thing. And when you do get to the border ultimately you're asked to show all this information and the border official reviews at all and confirms that what he or she is seeing is consistent with what you've downloaded. It's certainly far more steps than we've had to deal with previously going north."

Pat Bradley: "It is pre-August 9th and you mentioned your experience going across currently. You also mentioned quarantine and having the Canadians calling you every day. Will that be eliminated as of August 9th?"

Kirkey: "My understanding is that will be eliminated.  And that's why I think this period that they're allowing Canadians or Canadian expats who live in the United States to go north of the border it's a trial period to see to work out the bugs and everything to make sure everything is is working properly so that when the border is open for vaccinated Americans those issues can be set aside. I mean that's the hope provided of course, you know, there isn't an enormous spike in the current variant the Delta variant or others. So."

Bradley: "Canada has opened its border for people traveling north. That came after quite a period of time of people calling on Canada to open it. Do you think that Canada responded to pressure from not only the U.S. but Canadian business interests and others to open the border?"

Christopher Kirkey:  "I think they were listening to those voices. There's no question about that. Both, particularly from the business community, but at the same time I think Mr. Trudeau was on the record saying that look, here are our scientific benchmarks. We need to meet this number of either single or double, you know, vaccinations before we're willing to do this and we need to make sure that we've got sufficient supply to make sure we can get all Canadians vaccinated. He's taken a very incremental step, as far as or steps rather, as far as moving towards opening the border goes. But I think it's also been fairly responsible. And what what's interesting quite honestly here in the North Country is that a lot of voices from the political community and business community been focused on sort of expressing frustrations with the Canadian government where I think there was an expectation, perhaps a false expectation, that at the same time that Canada would do things that would be this binational that the United States would do so too. And we clearly know that that's not been the case."

Pat Bradley: "Did Canada's decision to reopen the border, particularly by Prime Minister Trudeau, was any of that due to the potential that he will call an election this fall?" 

Kirkey:  "I think it's fair to say there's been quite a bit of talk amongst observers that he's very much interested in the prospect of calling an election this fall largely in an effort to gain a, he's currently has minority the Liberal Party has a minority government position, and he'd love to have a majority government position. So he doesn't have to worry about how other parties are, if they're willing to support a particular piece of legislation. But it's also clear, I think it's fair to say, that the Prime Minister wasn't, would not, it would have been to his disadvantage, for example, to call a general election if he hadn't taken steps to reopen the border. Because it would have been, you know, point of vulnerability where the opposition parties and the media and other groups could have attacked Trudeau saying well look you know we really need to move forward on this. There's no compelling reason not to open the border to fully vaccinated Canadians, and as of August 9th Americans and in early September the international community. So it would have been it would have been a handy, so I think clearly to the extent he's contemplating asking the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call an election that was on his mind."

Bradley:  "He doesn't have to call an election until October 2023."
Kirkey: "Right."
Bradley: "He's got some, shall we say, wiggle room here?"
Kirkey: "He does."
Bradley: "So what are the issues he's going to be looking at before he goes to the Governor General and says we need to dissolve Parliament and call an election."

Kirkey:  "He'd obviously want to make sure that he's in a position to win. But having said that the larger questions are going to be, you know, what will be the principal campaign issues? Obviously his handling, the liberal government's handling, of the COVID-19 pandemic will be front and center. But Mr. Trudeau in most polls, I think overwhelming number of polls show that the Canadian public regard him to have done as prime minister a good job in managing this crisis in Canada. So that's a positive for him. Other issues that will emerge include most notably and this has been in many respects an issue that has been gaining traction in Canadian social, political, everyday discourse for at least 15 plus years has been the question of First Nations, indigenous peoples and communities. And, you know, when Mr. Trudeau campaigned in 2014, came into power originally in 2015, he did so saying, you know, sort of offering a very progressive approach to saying we're going to really tackle some very ugly and some very outstanding issues that confront indigenous peoples in Canada. He's taken some steps but they haven't been exactly gigantic steps. They've been smaller, incremental policies. So that's a bit of a point of vulnerability. And what's really, of course, in the last few months raised the focus of attention to an even unbelievably unexpected higher levels the fact that when the government of Canada partnering with principally the Catholic Church, but also other church organizations to run so called residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries where, you know, young First Nations children were effectively removed from their communities and brought down to the so called residential schools in southern Canada, if you will. Their treatment and their time spent at these schools, where it was nothing short of genocidal in some respects. And we're finding that out because First Nations communities across Canada are bringing to light, using things such as ground penetrating radar, they're finding these mass graves. So horrific numbers. And here they are, they're thrown into a mass grave. They may have died from tuberculosis. They may have died from other causes. So Mr. Trudeau is vulnerable but he also has an opportunity. If he comes out and says look, you know, we haven't done enough. We need to really step forward. And here's four or five major points that are policies that we are not simply going to pursue but we're going to implement and here's a clear timeline. If we're elected we're going to tackle this."

Pat Bradley: "Could part of his strategy along those lines be installing Mary Simon as Governor General since she has the Inuit background?"

Kirkey:  "I think it was clearly part of strategy of reconciliation. I think it was a brilliant choice. I think Miss Simon will be a fabulous Governor General. I hate to say it's overdue. But I think to the extent that it can be considered part of that strategy, yes. But there's so much more than needs to be done. And Canada's a very interesting nation Pat in so many ways. Unlike the United States and other global powers that have to worry so much about foreign affairs in the world. Canada, you know, even to the extent that national defense comes up as a discussion in an election campaign it's usually way down the list of priorities right? It's typically healthcare in Canada leads the way amongst other issues, education and so on. But indigenous issues has to be at the forefront."

Our conversation with Center for the Study of Canada Director Christopher Kirkey occurred before the union representing Canadian border agents voted to authorize a strike. According to the Montreal Gazette the strike could occur as soon as August 6 and could result in delayed traffic at the border.

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