Ontario-Quebec border reopening still up in the air
Restrictions on non-essential interprovincial travel could remain past June 16
Even as COVID-19 precautions are gradually relaxed on both sides of the Ottawa River, restrictions on interprovincial travel could be extended past the scheduled expiry date of June 16 — at least on the Ontario side of the border.
A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General said the current order banning non-essential travel between Ontario and Quebec, which went into effect in April, could be renewed in 14-day increments.
My hope is the premier of Ontario will recognize that we're one economic union.- Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson
Provincial and local police continue intermittently to staff checkpoints at interprovincial crossings, and have been issuing tickets or turning back motorists who don't have essential work, medical or humanitarian reasons to travel between regions.
Ontario is moving to the first stage of its reopening plan on Friday, and the Outaouais will move to looser "yellow zone" restrictions on June 14.
Quebec Premier François Legault initially told reporters Tuesday that border discussions with the Ontario government were confidential.
But on Thursday he suggested — seemingly in opposition to the comments from the solicitor general's office — that checkpoints could be removed in the coming days.
"We are in discussions with the Ontario government, the Ford government, and I'm confident within the next few days that we'll be able to open these borders," Legault said.
Watson wants border open
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has repeatedly called for the border restrictions to be lifted, saying they strain police resources and never made sense given the integrated nature of the National Capital Region.
"Given the fact that we're going to be opening up our patios and capacity at retail stores and other freedoms, it just doesn't make any sense to have that artificial boundary locked at both sides," Watson said Wednesday.
"My hope is the premier of Ontario will recognize that we're one economic union."
Ottawa police said patrolling the border crossings will cost $850,000 by June 16, with the province footing the bill. Gatineau police were unable to provide a similar cost estimate.
Decision up to provinces
Western Quebec's health authority Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO) noted health indicators on both sides of the Ottawa River are moving in the right direction for reopening the border.
"If the situation continues to improve, I expect we'll see changes sooner than later," said Dr. Brigitte Pinard, interim director of public health for CISSSO.
However, Pinard noted the decision will ultimately be up to the provincial governments.
Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin declined to comment, saying public health orders are beyond his powers, but he did support interprovincial border restrictions during earlier stages of the pandemic.
With files from Cathy Senay, Mama Afou, Antoine Trepanier