The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travelers since late March 2020.
One of the first executive orders signed by President Joe Biden directs the Secretaries of State, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Health and Human Services to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin discussions with their Mexican and Canadian counterparts and submit a plan that determines what public health measures and operational considerations are necessary to reopen travel across the border.
The North Country Chamber is among the groups that have been calling on federal officials to create a plan to reestablish nonessential cross border travel. President Garry Douglas spoke with WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley.
“What we and others in both countries have been calling for four months is some kind of transparent indication that the two countries are at least talking to each other about this. And what planning do we have to do? Because if you were going to do something with some of these things there have to be preparations. So we absolutely welcome that amongst priority actions was this order from 'the boss' to the heads of several of these departments and agencies: thou shalt start planning and talking and thinking about this and you're going to talk to your Canadian colleagues and start working on a plan. So it's a direct response to what we have been calling for. And it's going to be a while. We're probably talking maybe by summer. Now one of the things that certainly can be talked about more and you would expect will be now than a few months ago is how do we factor in people that are vaccinated? How do we, we have more rapid testing now. What about testing? So what about you have somebody who wants to visit a family member in the other country, they have a recent test that shows they're not infected and oh, by the way, they have their verification they're vaccinated. Can we start treating them differently? And again nothing's going to happen quickly. But those as well as just other factors and if you decide between the two countries that in some early stage of relaxation we're going to start allowing these new kinds of documentation, or this new process, a lot of preparation needs to be done. Training needs to be done. How do you verify people aren't using phony documents? So the important thing is that the discussions are going to start.”
Bradley: “Garry Douglas, Canadians have been very, very tentative about letting Americans into Canada.”
Douglas: “Well, first there's a reality is that the most serious problem is there now and it didn't come from us because the border has been essentially closed since last March. So it's Ontario and Quebec that are in almost total lockdowns. Because of those situations you know if I talk to my business allies and partners in Quebec, they agree and always have agreed with what we're saying, which is that there needs to be a planning process. Our Canadian friends are still more understandably distracted by things like, you know, curfew at eight o'clock at night. You know you can be arrested if you're out on the street after a certain hour at night and you're not doing it for an essential purpose. Which is why frankly somebody needed to take the lead. So the President of the U.S. have taken the lead in starting the conversation. Canada isn't going to say no to having the conversation. So the conversation will now start.”
Pat Bradley: “Garry if I recall there was a task force that was formed a few months ago.”
Garry Douglas: “Yes.”
Bradley: "Have they even begun to look at these sorts of things?"
Douglas: “We were very pleased when that was formed by the Wilson Center in Washington. Their Canada Institute basically said on behalf of the stakeholders in both countries, okay, we'll have an independent, credible conversation. We'll involve the stakeholders. We'll make recommendations to the two governments by the end of March. That's still going to go forward. This could fit very nicely. They could continue to be the avenue for stakeholders to provide input now to these departments and agencies who have been told by the President start thinking about and talking about these things. I think it could actually work together very nicely.”
Pat Bradley: “Garry, obviously the trucking and business cross border travel has been able to continue because that's been considered a priority during the pandemic. But over the last 10, nearly 11 months now, what's been happening to the sustainability of relationships between cross border businesses and such that, you know, maybe the CEOs can't travel back and forth as often or at all.”
Douglas: “You are wise beyond your years.”
Bradley: “Well, you've mentioned it before!”
Douglas: “We're constantly remind folks when anytime we hear particularly anybody in government say, oh, but the good news is there's absolutely no interference of commerce. It's going on just as it would. And we say well actually we're very appreciative the truck and rail activity is going on and we're doing very well in the Champlain region in this corridor. Our manufacturers who have footprints on both sides of the border are almost all in growth mode so thank you very much for all that. However the part of the business relationship that is being harmed by the interference of personal travel are the things that you can't quantify that would have happened otherwise but for the interference with travel. And we have a couple of these now. I'm a Quebec company. I'm finally ready to do that U.S. production facility. When can I come down for a site visit? Well, you can't. Nobody is going to do a new investment, a new addition an expansion of an existing company without being able to visit the site. So there is a lot of interruption and a lot of pent up kind of desire to do additional business that's being pushed to the side. The good news is it's kind of piling up. They're on hold because they can't get to those final visits and face to face meetings that they need. The day that those people can cross the border we're going to see the beginning of a wave of new foreign direct investment in New York state, North Country in particular, we're going to see a very strong year of economic development after that. That's good news kind of hanging out there.”
Garry Douglas is praising Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and the bi-partisan Northern Border Caucus for raising the issue with President Biden and urging that the northern border be a priority.