Hockey fans rejoiced last Sunday when Canadian health officials agreed to let National Hockey League teams cross the U.S.-Canada border for the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was not a big surprise; the Montreal Canadiens are looking good, and they stand to bring the Cup north for the first time since they won it last in 1993.
I, on the other hand, still cannot cross into Canada, at least through June 21. My case may not be quite as compelling as the N.H.L.’s, but a neighbor up on the Laurentian lake where we have a cottage called last week to say a tree had snapped and a branch threatened to crush a shed where I’ve stored many important things. And the municipalité says it’s time to empty the septic tanks. And I can argue that I pose less of a public health threat than a planeload of hockey players; I got my second Pfizer jab more than four months ago and have regularly tested negative for the coronavirus. And I really want to go.
My family has been spending summers, and some winters, in the Laurentians for nearly 70 years. That’s a lot of time, a lot of property and school taxes and a lot of money dumped to keep our chalets more or less upright. (The cottage, economists will confirm, was invented to support local economies.) More important, it’s a lot of good friends and deep roots. I can even cuss like a French Canadian, which is important up there.
A lot of people have it a lot worse. Many of the folks who live along the 5,525-mile border, the longest in the world, have shaped their lives around crossing it without a second thought, often to visit close kin on the other side. With the border closed, family visits and even marriages have been postponed, often month to month.
There are a lot of rumors floating around that the Canadians may soon loosen regulations, at least for Americans who have been fully vaccinated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that he would wait until 75 percent of Canadians have received at least one Covid vaccine dose before opening the border, which, at the current rate, could be in July. This week he said his government was working on a phased relaxation of border restrictions but still gave no date.
The pressure has been building steadily to open the border now, at least to fully vaccinated travelers, both from Americans and from Canadians who fear losing another summer’s worth of American tourist dollars. A panel of experts convened by Ottawa recently advised the government to start differentiating between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated at the border. In the United States, politicians along the northern border — including Representative Elise Stefanik, an upstate New York Republican who has emerged as a major Trumpian voice in Congress — have called on the Biden administration to begin unilaterally easing these border restrictions.
Imposing some safeguards, like proof of vaccination and up-to-date negative coronavirus tests, is fine, though the cards issued on vaccination are pathetically easy to copy, and vaccine passports are only available in a handful of states.
What has been maddening since the border was first closed on March 21, 2020 — by consent between Canada and the United States — is that the closure has been renewed month by month, apparently without much discussion of what conditions would make it possible to reopen the gates. Commercial traffic has never been blocked, reflecting the fact that, at least before the pandemic, some $1.6 billion worth of goods crossed the border daily, but almost every other kind — specifically including travel by property owners — has been banned as nonessential.
There’s no question that closing the border then was the right thing to do. Every country was scrambling to control the highly contagious coronavirus, and the United States under the Trump administration was doing a particularly lousy job of it. Moreover, it’s easy to imagine that Mr. Trudeau took extra pleasure in blocking travel from a country whose boorish president had called him “very dishonest and weak” and had gone out of his way to humiliate and demean Canada, actually invoking national security to slap punitive tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. These things are not easily forgiven or forgotten; just check out the YouTube clip of Mr. Trudeau taking 21 seconds to answer a question about Mr. Trump in June 2020.
There was something of that aggrieved tone in Mr. Trudeau’s recent response to questions about the border, along with a politician’s awareness that closing the border has been hugely popular with Canadians, at least in part out of pique with their treatment under the last administration. “We’re on the right path, but we’ll make our decisions based on the interests of Canadians and not based on what other countries want,” he said last week.
However terribly Washington handled the Covid-19 outbreak, more than half of Americans over the age of 18 have been fully vaccinated now, including more than three-quarters of older folks, like me. Canada is far behind. While 68 percent of people over 18 have received one dose, only 7 percent have been fully vaccinated. And there’s a normal administration in Washington now. No, President Biden has unfortunately not lifted the Trump tariffs, and he killed the Keystone XL pipeline, and he is putting big stress on “Buy American.” But these are the kinds of competitive differences that have always existed between the North American neighbors, and putting trade disputes into normal channels — without the offensive bullying of the Trump years — is one more reason to reopen the border.
Take it from me: The Americans who regularly travel to the True North Strong and Free are the ones you want as neighbors and friends.
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