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“If Canada Day starts on July 1st and Independence Day starts on July 4th, then these target dates are real pressure points to be normalized,” Easter, the co-chair of the Canada-US Inter-Parliamentary Group, said in an interview. “The heat is in full swing and I think we absolutely need to have a plan.”
The front man: The land crossings between Canada and the USA have been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. The neighbors agreed last week to keep the restrictions in place until June 21st.
But with vaccination numbers rising, June 22nd could be a different story.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told POLITICO this week that US authorities are ready to lift restrictions on both US borders in June. “Everything indicates that they will open next month,” said Cuellar, whose district borders the Mexican border. “We’re almost there. But I don’t know if they’re doing it all at once or if they’re taking a step-by-step approach.”
The plan: According to Easter, Canada is approaching the border with greater caution. When asked if Canada could start opening stores on June 22, he said it would depend on how the pandemic evolves and vaccinations on both sides.
However, through June 22, Easter said it will be crucial to make schedules and benchmarks available to the public.
“You have to set up the plan regardless of this uncertainty. People need to know where they are going. That hope must be given to them, ”said Easter. “At this point it is absolutely essential that the plan is fully worked out. ”
Canada, for example, caught up with the US in giving the first doses of the vaccines, but lagging behind the percentage of people who had both vaccinations. As of Thursday, more than 53 percent of Canada’s population had received at least one dose while only 5 percent were fully vaccinated.
Looking beyond the Ottawa Bubble: The lack of a plan, Easter argues, is due in part to the legislature’s switch to virtual gatherings during the pandemic. Zoom’s caucus meetings just weren’t the same, he added.
“You can’t rub your shoulders … and say to someone, ‘Look, this is the problem and let’s get down to business today and put the pressure on,'” said Easter, who adds many Americans in his Prince Edward Island constituency as well often spend up to five months a year there.
“They have the Ottawa bubble mentality to some extent and that can be part of the problem. Just like the Washington, DC mentality – they’re two different worlds. I say both [are] a bubble in which there is neither reality nor common sense. “
Easter also said he believes Canada is not yet in need of revealing a plan due to the “flow and uncertainty” of the pandemic. The province of Manitoba is grappling with an increase in Covid-19 cases. Home restrictions still apply in much larger provinces like Ontario.
Cross-border discussions: Last week, Easter jointly chaired a meeting of the Canada-US Inter-Parliamentary Group that focused on a number of issues, including the safe reopening of the border. US participants included Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) And Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).
He said the Americans in the meeting wanted to put more pressure on the US and Canadian governments to get started Remove border restrictions.
“They’re firing up their government and they’re trying to do something wrong with our government too,” he said, adding that this resonates with the von Trudeau ministers. “I speak to cabinet ministers in various caucus meetings. The discussion is ongoing, it is not a contentious point. There [are] Cabinet discussions about how we do this. That’s a good sign.”
American pressure has increased the chances that the US could begin reopening the border off Canada.
A senior Canadian government insider recently said that official talks were underway across the border and no decisions were expected in the short term. The insider also said the rules could relax over the course of the summer.
Trudeau has suggested that at least 75 percent of Canada’s population will need their first shots and 20 percent their second dose before the country begins easing public health restrictions. He did not provide detailed guidelines for the border.
The prime minister remains under domestic political pressure. For example, provincial leaders like Ontario’s Prime Minister Doug Ford have urged him to keep the border measures in place.
The political pressure: The restrictions have affected businesses, tourism and family reunification on both sides of the border. But so far most of the public pressure has come from the US
Rep. Brian Higgins (DN.Y.), co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus, is one of the most vocal lawmakers pushing President Joe Biden and Trudeau forward. He wants the border measures to be lifted for fully vaccinated people.
Last week Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer used a statement to urge Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directly to coordinate with his Canadian counterparts as soon as possible.
Easter said political pressure from the US has been in large part because Canada public health officials and the media have contributed to a greater “fear factor” related to the pandemic.
“We did a pretty good job creating fear on the Canadian side,” he said, noting that the goal was to get people to stay home. “If you ever watched [the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] for a period of 16 hours one would be depressed. “