Cross Country Checkup

As border businesses plan for summer tourism, former ambassador anticipates 'normal travel' to U.S. by fall

Though some areas of the country are starting to see pandemic restrictions lift, or have plans to do so, a date to reopen the border remains elusive. Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, says the border is not opening “soon enough,” but expects that will change in the coming months.

‘How we implement this will not necessarily be easy,’ says Bruce Heyman

Travelers cross the Rainbow Bridge, connecting Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Canada, on March 18, 2018. The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press)

Spring in Ontario would normally bring bus loads of American wine enthusiasts to Marcel Morgenstern's Niagara region winery.

But with the border closed, and provincial restrictions in place, the pandemic's effects have taken a toll on the business.

"We have tour buses that come all the way from the southern states up and visit us to discover our ice wines and our table wines, and that, during the season from May right to the end of September, happens pretty much every weekday," said Morgenstern, director of sales and marketing for PondView Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

"The closure of the border has ... had a huge impact on top of the fact that we deal with a lot of restaurants across the province."

Though some areas of the country are starting to see pandemic restrictions lift, or have plans to do so, a date to reopen the border remains elusive.

In mid-May, CBC News reported that Canadian and American officials have started "preliminary talks" on lifting the restrictions, according to a source with direct knowledge of the file. 

Bruce Heyman, former U.S. ambassador to Canada, says the border is not opening "soon enough," but expects that will change in the coming months.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman assumes that conversations between Canadian and American officials on reopening the border are taking place. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"I think we can expect some type of normal travel this fall going into the winter season," he told Cross Country Checkup host Ian Hanomansing. 

"There's a chance that we see beginnings of travel this summer — and there's hope that we see a lot of travel this summer, knowing how much we enjoy each other during the summertime."

Countries must agree on clear guidelines

Though he doesn't have first-hand knowledge of the discussions, Heyman says he assumes that conversations between the two governments are taking place.

But reopening an international border with more than 100 crossings isn't as simple as flipping a switch, Heyman notes.

"The reality is like an old car that you haven't started in a while. You just don't go back and just start [it] right up and it runs smoothly," he said.

Heyman says that reopening the more than 100 border crossings will require strong coordination of rules between Canada and the U.S. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

Heyman says that the two countries need to agree on clear guidelines regarding vaccination, testing and quarantining, before restrictions are lifted.

The approach should also be universal at border crossings across the country, he says. Otherwise, travellers may opt to cross in a location with less stringent rules.

"How we implement this will not necessarily be easy, especially if the standards are not necessarily agreed upon," said Heyman. "Certain communities may have a difficult time implementing certain standards."

Speaking with Rosemary Barton last Sunday, Canada's Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo, said any decision to loosen restrictions will hinge on lowering case counts to a manageable level and reaching herd immunity.

"Once we get to that point, then we can look at opening up the international border," Njoo said.

WATCH | Dr. Howard Njoo on reopening the Canada-U.S. border:

What needs to happen before Canada considers opening international borders

Rosemary Barton Live

2 months ago
Canada's deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, told CBC's chief political correspondent, Rosemary Barton, that Canada needs manageable case counts and herd immunity levels of vaccination before border restrictions can begin to ease. 11:30

Winery plans for summer with restrictions

Morgenstern says that his wineries have prepared for a summer with pandemic restrictions by moving activities outdoors.

It's expected that outdoor dining, with up to four people per table, and the reopening of non-essential retail up to 15 per cent capacity, will begin the week of June 14 in Ontario.

With the Canada-U.S. border closed, Morgenstern says the wineries have seen a huge influx of visitors from nearby towns and cities, including Toronto and Ottawa.

And while traffic from the U.S. would be a "welcome bonus," he says they're planning around the assumption that the border will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

"If we are to operate, which likely is what's happening, under these restricted guidelines of social distancing and so on, there's only so many visitors we can process," he said.

Ultimately, Morgenstern hopes that when the province does reopen the economy, it's for good.

"Let's not repeat what we just experienced already," he said.

"We're done with the politics around it. We just need clear cut guidelines, and we're ready."

Written by Jason Vermes with files from Steve Howard.

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