U.S. legislation seeks to up pressure for Canadian border reopening

A bill introduced in the United States Congress aims to create pressure to reopen the Canada-U.S. border to travel. It's the latest sign of frustration among American politicians over the lack of clarity or progress on the process.

Legislation latest sign of mounting frustration in the U.S. with continued closures

Bill sponsor Chris Jacobs is seen here at his swearing-in ceremony as a member of Congress last year, with his wife, daughter and mother. Other relatives of Jacobs own the Boston Bruins. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.

What's new

bill introduced in the United States Congress aims to create pressure to reopen the Canada-U.S. border to international travel.

A Republican lawmaker from New York state who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives this week says he wants answers on what conversations are happening behind the scenes.

He says he's frustrated by the lack of clarity over the Canada-U.S. process.

The bill would require a report to be produced within 30 days of enactment by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control.

The report would have to include details on U.S. communications with the Canadian government on the reopening of the border.

It would require details to be revealed on what the U.S. government has done to reopen travel with Canada; to allow exemptions for families, property owners and boaters; and to open the U.S. border unilaterally if Canada refuses to participate.

"[Sixteen] months of indefinite, arbitrary closures are unacceptable," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Chris Jacobs, said in a statement.   

"Enough is enough, the president and his cabinet owe Congress, separated families, business owners and homeowners answers — this legislation is designed to get them."

What's the context

We reported this week that political frustration is mounting in the U.S., where 53 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated; normal activities are resuming, with sports, bars and music venues filling; and COVID-19 cases are dropping.

Lawmakers in the U.S. say people should be able to travel to see their loved ones and enter their properties across the border, and those growing demands are bipartisan.

Some powerful members of Congress from New York have pushed the issue — including Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican House conference chair Elise Stefanik, and a member of the important House ways and means committee, Democrat Brian Higgins. 

Vaccination rates remain low in many U.S. states, especially more conservative southern states.

But that's not true of the northern border states — including the states that are the main sources of U.S. travel to Canada. Take New York state, for instance.

There, 70 per cent of adults have had one dose, which is comparable to Canada's rate; and 60 per cent are fully vaccinated — which is nearly eight times higher than Canada's rate.

What's next

Canada is announcing a multi-phase plan for reopening, as we reported earlier this week. It will begin with fully vaccinated Canadians being able to avoid quarantine upon returning home.

Canada's travel rules for non-Canadians will not loosen for at least a few more weeks; those details have yet to be confirmed.