This article is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from TBEN News correspondents on US politics and developments affecting Canadians.
The United States is set to reopen its land border with Canada to non-essential travel. And it won’t force visitors to present a negative COVID-19 test; proof of vaccination will suffice.
Cue the calls for Canada to apply the same standard.
Members of the US Congress should send letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and MPs calling on Canada to drop the testing requirement for vaccinated travelers.
The hassle of testing will discourage people from taking advantage of the reinstated right to cross-border travel, a congressman said.
New York Representative Brian Higgins, a Democrat, said proof of vaccination should suffice.
“The tests are redundant,” he said on Wednesday, a day after the United States confirmed it would reopen the border early next month.
“This will lead to a lot of Canadians reluctant to come to the United States… There is a cost associated with that. It is also an additional administrative step that I think is unnecessary.”
What is the context
These calls at the end of testing requirements have one key purpose: to attract more Canadian travelers. Same day trips represent a huge percentage of Canadian trips to the United States.
According to Statistics Canada data, day trips accounted for almost half of all Canadian trips to the United States in 2019 – and two-thirds of trips by car.
Current Canadian testing requirements make this difficult.
To enter Canada, recreational travelers must provide proof of a COVID-19 test performed within 72 hours of entering. It cannot be a rapid antigen test, but rather must be a molecular test.
It takes one to two days to get these results at a leading US drugstore chain and can cost US $ 139 per sample. Canadian citizens can present a negative test taken in Canada, as long as it does not have more than 72 hours upon their return to the country.
The test hurdle remains a problem for border communities most reliant on day travel, like Buffalo, NY, for example, which Higgins represents in Congress.
WATCH | Congressman Brian Higgins says entry rules for Canadians who have received mixed COVID-19 vaccines are coming
Point Roberts, Washington, is another striking case.
Lack of travel the same day devastated the economy of this community. The city relies on residents of the Vancouver area who visit the waterfront, eat at a restaurant, and shop for groceries or gasoline before returning to Canada.
Brian Calder, the head of the local chamber of commerce, said he worries the new travel rules won’t mean much unless Canada loosens its rules.
The small community only has two testing clinics per week, Calder said. It takes over a day and costs US $ 150 to get the results.
“[Canadians] do not go down [with these rules]”he told TBEN News.
Leisure travel to the United States by land will resume next month, the White House said.
Travelers will need to have proof of vaccination, but a White House official said: “No, there will be no requirement for testing.”
Higgins said members of Congress would write to Trudeau and other MPs, urging them to adopt the more lenient U.S. rule on testing.
He said authorities are eroding their own message that vaccines work well by instituting additional requirements beyond vaccination.
Will Canada listen to calls to relax the testing requirement?
Ottawa is not saying anything more about this at this time.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted on Wednesday that the federal government accepts negative PCR tests up to 72 hours old for inbound travelers. This rule means that Canadians on day trips to the United States can take their COVID-19 test before leaving and use it upon their return, rather than relying on a private test in the United States.
“Yes [Canadians] want to go shopping, it will be relatively easy for them to return to Canada, ”Blair told TBEN’s Power & Politics.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said long-term rules have yet to be finalized. During a trip to Washington on Wednesday, she repeated the same response when journalists asked her about the rules for the test in French and English.
“We are working to clarify and finalize all the details with our US partners,” Freeland said.