North Country Interests Decry Continued Border Closure Without Future Reopening Plan | WAMC

North Country Interests Decry Continued Border Closure Without Future Reopening Plan

Jun 17, 2020

The border between Canada and the U.S. will remain closed to non-essential travelers for another month.  While North Country interests had expected the border to remain closed, they are blasting federal officials for not crafting a plan for future opening.

The U.S.-Canada border was first closed to non-essential travel for 30 days on March 18 and extended in April and May.  The closure has again been renewed to July 21st.    

The North Country Chamber expected the move but President Garry Douglas says it is time for authorities to come up with a plan to reopen the border safely.  “It’s time to enunciate a plan. Time to enunciate as New York state has done what the way forward is. Can there be some phases? What is it that’s going to drive this decision so we don’t just go to 30 days to 30 days to 30 days to 30 days into 30 years saying we’re not ready to reopen?  This is now a wholly political process that clearly being driven by fear and feelings not by facts and performance and that has to change.”

New York’s 115th Assembly District abuts the Canadian border and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones is honorary co-chair of the Quebec-New York Corridor Coalition.  The Democrat says extending the border restrictions will have dire consequences.  “It’s safety first. But it’s just been no and then another 30 day extension then no and then another 30 day extension. We have to start thinking about opening so let’s work on some kind of framework to get us to that point. And I think there’s a real fear factor among the Canadian government. But we need to have a path forward.”

The Town of Plattsburgh attracts shoppers and tourists from Quebec and Supervisor Michael Cashman often calls the Route 3 corridor its million-dollar mile due to the heavy daily traffic.  That was before the border closed.   "The direct impact is a financial impact and it’s about the livelihoods of the restaurants and the retailers within the greater Plattsburgh region. And those funds from sales tax also drive services through county government and local municipal government such as the Town of Plattsburgh. What is most frustrating is that both the Canadian government and the U.S. government don’t seem to be engaged in conversations about metrics or phases to engage any type of reopening soon.”

While Cashman echoes the thoughts of the Chamber president and Assemblyman he says he hasn’t talked with them about the idea of phased reopening.  “That’s what sends even a stronger message. It’s not that hard to embrace the concept of planning. We need to plan for a reopening. Nothing prevents us from creating the metrics that we need for safe reopening but also to protect the economies of the communities on both sides of the border.”

Douglas is annoyed the two governments appear to see the border closure as merely a procedural move.  “People’s lives are being affected. People’s businesses are being affected. But most of all that very special social fabric between U.S. citizens and Canadian citizens particularly in border regions is being ripped apart. We need to hear these two federal governments to say how deeply they regret that this is necessary. They’re not even bothering to put any verbiage around this that even indicates that it’s something they regret doing.”

During a visit to Plattsburgh on June 1st Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of the 21st district said she wanted to see the border reopened safely this month.   “The tourism impact has been so so significant to our region. And I’ve had those cross border dialogs. I think the economic hurt is felt on both sides of the border.”

Essential cross-border workers including healthcare professionals and truck drivers are exempt from the border restrictions.