Businesses have been choked by government restrictions: Andrew Oliver on restaurants reopening
Tourism businesses pushed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to relax stringent Canadian border rules in time to salvage the summer travel season, calling for a nationwide plan to reopen the country as the COVID-19 pandemic eases.
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the National Airlines Council of Canada and other business groups lambasted the government’s lack of clarity over future travel rules, even as vaccination rates climb rapidly. They also asked for a vaccine certification process and harmonized rules between provinces, which have at times made entry even more restrictive.
“The data today justifies a renewed approach to border measures,” Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, told reporters Monday at Ottawa’s airport. “Canada cannot afford to be left behind as other countries around the world begin to reopen. We cannot afford to lose the second summer in a row.”
About 64 per cent of Canadians have received one dose of a vaccine so far but only 12 per cent have received two shots, according to data from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Rates of infection and hospitalization have seen sharp declines in most of the country.
Trudeau’s government has so far paid little heed to pleas from the business community. Its only concession came last week, when it said it would end a mandatory hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated Canadian residents arriving by air. But that won’t take effect until July, and Trudeau himself will adhere to it upon returning from international summits in Europe this week.
A mandatory 14-day quarantine, at home, also remains the norm for most travelers, while the vast majority of foreign nationals aren’t allowed to enter the country at all. The stringent rules have reduced travel through Canadian airports to a trickle.
Traffic at airport security checkpoints in Canada was 11 per cent of 2019 levels in the first 13 days of June, versus 72 per cent in the U.S., according to data from the countries’ transport security authorities.
In particular, the business groups demanded clear criteria for reopening the Canada-U.S. border. Every month since March 2020, the two governments have extended restrictions on non-essential travel to curb the spread of COVID-19, with the pact due for renewal June 21.
“We’ve seen no plan and we have no idea what the government’s intentions are for when the current closure expires,” Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty said.
As restrictions ease south of the border, “Americans will have a very robust tourist season, unlike Canada,” he added.
The National Hockey League, which was able to have a season thanks to a strict safety protocol, was flagged as an example of Trudeau’s ambiguity on the travel and border file.
This month, the government granted an exemption allowing teams to travel back and forth for the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens, the sole remaining Canadian team in contention, play their first semifinal game against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas later Monday.
“If there can be a plan for our NHL teams, why can’t there be a plan for the rest of Canadians?” said Beth Potter, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.