As It Happens·Q&A

Let vaccinated Canadians drive across the U.S. border, urges N.Y. congressman

A New York congressman says it’s time for the U.S. to open its land border to fully vaccinated Canadians.

Canada opens its border to fully vaccinated U.S. travellers on Aug. 9, but the U.S. border will remain closed

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Windsor, Ont. (Rod Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

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A New York congressman says it's time for the U.S. to open its land border to fully vaccinated Canadians.

Both southern and northern U.S. land borders will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21, according to a renewal order issued by the U.S. government Wednesday. 

This is despite the fact that Canada will allow fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents to enter the country starting on Aug. 9. Fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries will be free to enter Canada on Sept. 7.

When pressed on the matter, the U.S. government was tight-lipped, saying only that it is following the advice of health experts to stop the spread of the more contagious COVID-19 delta variant.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents constituents living along the U.S.-Canadian border, says that's not a good enough answer. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

Why are you so keen to open up the borders to Canadians?

Because both Americans and Canadians have been told for 16 months to follow the science, to follow the facts, to follow the data. And the fact of the matter is the science is that if you are fully vaccinated, you have very strong immunity against the disease, against giving it or getting it, and that has to account for something.

What are you hearing from your constituents as they face another summer without any Canadian visitors?

It hurts both sides of the border. I represent Buffalo and western New York, the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y. And our economy is deeply interdependent on the Canadian economy, specifically the province of Ontario.

So it hurts our economy. It hurts our life quality. And there's a mental health issue as well as it relates to people who love each other, who have been separated for 16 months.

And again, all of us have been admonished to follow the science. And the science says that if you are fully vaccinated, you, in fact, have strong immunity against both giving COVID or getting COVID, even when you take into account the delta variant

Because it's the delta variant that the White House cites as the increased risk and its increased caution, if you will.

The Pfizer vaccine studies have shown that the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective in giving you immunity against the delta variant, 88 per cent relative to the disease, 96 per cent relative to hospitalization. Those are very, very high rates of efficacy.

You've been quite public in your criticism of the decision by the Biden administration, and you have said this decision should be made by the president himself. Why appeal directly to the president on this?

Because for the past six months, primarily, I have dealt with many, many members of the Biden administration cabinet, all of whom say the right things, but there is no action.

And in the end, there's only two people that can make the decision as it relates to the U.S.-Canadian border, and that is the Canadian prime minister and the president of the United States, both of whom I think are people of goodwill who have told us repeatedly: Follow the science.

Think about this for a moment. If you're in Canada and you fly into Buffalo, that's permitted. If you're in Canada and you want to [drive] into Buffalo, you can't. How does that make sense? 

That's why I think the frustration has been that too many of these decisions are arbitrary. For example, you know, National Hockey League hockey players were given an exemption owing not to science, but to the NHL playoffs schedule. 

That frustrates people who have not been able to visit their cottages, who have not been able to become reunited with people they love. 

And yet we heard from Jen Psaki, the presidential spokesperson, that it is the science advice that the White House is receiving from officials that is guiding their decision on the border.

She is not reading what the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying. And if you look on the website today, relative to COVID guidance, it is very explicit. And it says if you are fully vaccinated, you can return to pre-pandemic activity. 

Therefore, they should read their own CDC website. Because what the press secretary is saying and what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are saying are two different things.

U.S. congressman says he will urge Biden to follow Canada's lead and reopen the border

2 months ago
1:16
Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins says he's disappointed that the U.S. has not followed Canada's move to reopen the border. Higgins tells Power & Politics he will urge the White House to allow fully vaccinated Canadians to travel to the U.S. 1:16

If you don't buy that answer, why do you believe they are hesitating?

We have two sovereign nations here that are connected by a common border, and … each side has their own politics. You know, you've got the Liberal-Conservative dynamic of Canadian federal politics going on. In the United States, you've got two borders — you've got the northern border and you have the southern border, both of which offer both challenges and opportunities, but they are different.

There is some speculation that perhaps the administration doesn't want to open the northern border without also concurrently opening the southern border. There's [also] word in the White House that some people are opposed to the whole notion of vaccine passports

So you're saying their decisions are being made purely on political reasons?

I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that's the speculation. But I do think that if the United States makes a decision not to open its border to Canadians ... they have an obligation to state why. And when you have complete radio silence, that does not serve the purpose or the benefit of citizens on either side of the border.

Mexican ambassador says 'it makes sense' for the U.S. to treat the Canadian and Mexican land borders the same

2 months ago
7:03
Following news that the U.S. will extend its land border closure until August 21, Mexico's Ambassador to Canada Juan José Gomez-Camacho tells CBC's Power & Politics he thinks it's logical for the United States to treat its northern and southern borders the same. 7:03

You are a Democrat. You have roles on two powerful committees that deal with the border issue. Have you appealed directly to President Biden? Have you called him? Have you tried to be in touch?

To the president directly through the White House and, you know, through the procedures that we are expected to follow. But also with many cabinet secretaries. And Sen. [Chuck] Schumer, my counterpart in the Senate, has done the same thing. We've had over 70 members of Congress that have communicated directly to the White House.

What are you prepared to do to force this issue?

As a member of Congress, I have two things — I have a voice and I have a vote. And I use both of them. And during this whole thing, my obligation to my constituents is to be honest and to keep trying.

So every single day, including this day and tomorrow and the next day, we will be trying to find whatever pressure points there are available to get the administration to do what it ought to be doing in the natural course of their responsibility. 

So you will vote against government legislation? For example, the infrastructure deal that is so important to the president?

Well, there's always a cost-benefit analysis that has to occur here. It's important to all of us. But as I said, I have a voice and a vote and I will use those tools to get the administration to do what they ought to be doing. 


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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