Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will be “very, very careful” about reopening the country’s border with the United States, as the country’s top doctor warns our southern neighbour poses “a risk to Canada” due to its COVID-19 cases.
Speaking to reporters outside of his Ottawa residence Tuesday, Trudeau faced several questions about a cross-border agreement, which is set to expire next week, that prohibits non-essential travel to and from the U.S.
The pact, which was imposed in March and later extended to May 21, allows essential workers and trade to move between the two countries, but not tourists or cross-border shoppers.
Trudeau would not say if he wants to see the border reopen fully next Thursday, saying that his government is having “extremely positive and constructive” talks with the U.S. administration on the issue.
Some provincial premiers, including Ontario’s Doug Ford and British Columbia’s John Horgan, have publicly urged Trudeau not to permit visitors from the U.S., where there have been more than 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 so far and roughly 80,000 deaths.
But as restrictions are relaxed on both sides of the border, Trudeau said his government is preparing for a possible spike in cross-border traffic.
“We are looking at stronger measures to make sure that we’re following up appropriately on people who come over,″ he said.
With a nod to the fact that the clock is ticking, Trudeau said he had “no doubt we will have more to say in the coming days on how we continue to move forward in a way that keeps Canadians safe.”
Asked what Canada needs to see on both sides of the border before consenting to non-essential travel, Trudeau said the focus must be on “flattening the curve” and decreasing the number of COVID-19 cases.
The restart of different sectors of the economy must be done “gradually” and with “tremendous vigilance,” he said.
Trudeau, who on Monday called for more COVID-19 testing as provinces and territories begin lifting restrictions, added Canada must have “the mechanism and the materials in place” to deal with possible further spikes.
“Preventing transmission from outside of Canada into Canada, once we have controlled the spread within Canada, will be an essential part of ensuring that we don’t fall back into a second wave that could be as serious as this wave that we’re going through or even more so,” he said.
“So, we’re going to be very, very careful about reopening any international travel, including the United States, before we feel that it is time.”
Veteran NDP MP Brian Masse, who represents a riding in the border city of Windsor, Ont., also pressed Liberals about the issue Tuesday during a virtual meeting of an all-party special committee on the pandemic.
Masse noted that the state of Michigan, just across the Detroit river from Windsor, is an “epicentre of the outbreak.” As of May 10, Michigan had seen more than 47,000 cases and more than 4,500 deaths. According to the latest government figures published Tuesday morning, Ontario has nearly 21,000 cases and 1,725 deaths linked to COVID-19.
Watch: NDP MP presses Freeland on border talks
He wanted to know if border rules will be extended or changed next week.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland declined to answer, saying she learned during her time as the foreign affairs minister working on the new NAFTA trade pact “that negotiations are best not conducted in public.”
She also brushed Masse back after he asked if border communities in Canada, who he says are at higher risk of infection, will get more financial help and personal protective equipment to deal with the “loosening restrictions being discussed.”
Freeland said Masse was wrong to imply closed-door talks are about easing restrictions. “That is his assertion,” she said. “I have not said that.”
“Apparently, we’re meeting for nothing,” he shot back, a sarcastic dig at discussions being had with U.S. officials.
U.S. ‘presents a risk’: Tam
At a separate press conference in Ottawa, Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, said the United States “presents a risk to Canada” because it is still trying to manage cases and outbreaks.
When dealing with a virus that can take off rapidly, caution is the name of the game, Tam suggested.
She said it would be better to see what happens after provinces and territories ease domestic public health measures “before we can essentially look at the international border easing up.”
Tam said “we’ve seen that travel-related cases have really fallen off as a result of the border measures.”
With files from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj