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'We Could Expect The Border To Stay Closed At Least Till Next Summer'

A street sign showing Line Road and Border Road.
Elodie Reed
VPR File
The U.S.-Canada border crossing in Alburgh, Vermont. The border continues to be closed to nonessential traffic during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel was extended once again. The border will remain shut until at least Nov. 21.

It's been closed since late March as a measure to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

But the closure has taken a toll on families, border towns and economies that rely on cross-border traffic. So when might the border reopen? And when it does, will the long closure have any lasting impact on relations between these two countries?

For more on this, VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Jeffrey Ayres, a political science professor who focuses on North American and Canadian politics at St. Michael's College in Colchester. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So first off, just looking at the historical context, is there any equivalent for a border closure between the U.S. and Canada to have gone on for this long?

Jeffrey Ayres: Certainly not to my knowledge. The only thing that comes to mind is right after Sept. 11, and that didn't last nearly this long. So no, this is pretty unprecedented.

More from Brave Little State: How Are The U.S.-Canada Border Restrictions Affecting Vermont Families And Businesses?

And so looking ahead to the possibility for the border to reopen at some point, what has to happen on both sides? I mean, does it have to be an agreement between the two governments, or could one side start to ease restrictions while the other doesn't?

Great question. I think there does need to be an agreement between the two countries. It's interesting because the United States and Canada are saying different things right now. The Trump administration has been, and President Trump himself has been saying, “We want to open the border as soon as possible.” He's even said Canadians want the border open.

That's not the case from what we're hearing from Canada. I mean, Prime Minister Trudeau just recently said the border is going to remain closed until there's clear evidence of the pandemic is slowing in the United States.

More from VPR: An 'Eerie' Few Months Farming Along Vermont's Border With Canada

There's estimates — I've read a number of epidemiologist [commentaries] from Canada, as well as I've talked to government officials, including in the Boston Consulate, who have said we could expect the border to stay closed at least till next summer.

There's no way Canadians are going to open the border to the United States without some sort of collaborative agreement with the U.S. and some sort of sense of confidence that we've really gotten the pandemic under control, which we clearly haven't.

" ... around two-thirds of Canadians say even after the border reopens to nonessential traffic, they will remain uncomfortable traveling to the United States." — Jeffrey Ayres, St. Michael's College professor

While it might make sense to continue the closure from a public health perspective, what are some of the impacts that you're seeing right now in terms of having the borders shut on the economies and communities on both sides?

Well, there's no question that both the border communities themselves, so the cross-border shopping, [the] general economic ways in which the border communities support each other... that's been significantly impacted. In fact, we've all probably noticed the Quebec plates missing from the parking lots down here.

I think it's also tourism. The tourist industry has been significantly impacted. So the longer this goes, it's going to really impact the tourist industry, local economies and, of course, friendships.

Canadians have tried to – in fact, the most recent October statement, Canada continues to try to create some flexibility for extended family members of Canadians and permanent residents to come into Canada. But it's a difficult issue, and certainly on both sides of the border, there is a desire, I think, to see the border open.

But certainly I've read across the Canadian border, mayors and public officials and citizens [saying], “Until we get the virus under better control in the United States, the desire is to keep the border to nonessential travel closed.”

More from VPR: Reporter Debrief: Quebec Experiencing Second Wave Of The Coronavirus

In terms of the long-term effects of this, do you think there will be an impact on the diplomatic level in the relationship between the U.S. and Canada over the long-term?

Well, it's a great question, and I think that is going to depend on the outcome of our election. If President Trump is reelected, the sense is, there will be a continuation of tense, difficult relations. I think that a Biden administration would certainly repair relations. I think you wouldn't see the insults and threats.

I think the lasting impact of the actual border closure will be, it will take a significant amount of time for cross-border traffic in nonessential services to increase anytime soon.

In fact, what's really sobering is polls that show, again, around two-thirds of Canadians say even after the border reopens to nonessential traffic, they will remain uncomfortable traveling to the United States. There'll be lingering concern, especially from the Canadian perspective, of just how much has really changed in the U.S., even if there's a change in administration.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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