Business groups are urging the minority Liberal government to hold off triggering a federal election until Ottawa unveils a comprehensive plan to reopen the Canada-U.S. border and allow the entry of fully vaccinated foreign travellers, saying the tourism industry is being unnecessarily devastated this summer.
They warn that empty convention centres, cancelled music festivals and reduced demand for hotels and wilderness tours are costing Canada’s valuable tourism sector billions of dollars.
Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said Canada’s successful vaccination campaign against COVID-19 means there is no longer a sound rationale for current border restrictions or for blocking fully vaccinated foreigners. He said a blueprint to reopen is overdue.
“We need this plan today – not after an election. And it needs to be based on medical science, not political science.”
The Liberals are widely expected to trigger an election campaign as early as mid-August, which would put the federal government in caretaker mode where those in charge must refrain from making significant decisions related to policy, spending or appointments.
Canada runs the risk of having its border decisions “frozen in time” until after an election, Mr. Beatty said.
According to covid19tracker.ca, more than 78 per cent of Canadians eligible for vaccines have received one dose and nearly 45 per cent of this same group are now fully vaccinated.
“Canada is quickly becoming one of the most vaccinated places on the planet,” Mr. Beatty said during a Thursday news conference in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Parliament Hill.
He said Ottawa has so far declined to lay out a timetable and plan for reopening the border to foreign travellers who’ve been fully vaccinated. This has left Canada’s travel and tourism industry hurting for a second summer in a row.
“We keep hearing that plans are coming but it’s now well into July and the 2021 tourist season is fast disappearing. Businesses simply cannot afford to wait any longer,” Mr. Beatty said. He was speaking as part of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable.
In response to Mr. Beatty’s comments, Thierry Bélair, director of communications for Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said: “We continue to follow the situation in Canada and abroad, and next steps will be announced in the coming weeks.”
Sueling Ching, president and chief executive of the Ottawa Board of Trade, who joined Mr. Beatty at the Thursday news conference, said Ottawa businesses are “struggling to keep the lights on” this summer. One day’s worth of business in the summer can equal one week in the winter.
“Can you even imagine owning a business knowing that more than half of your customers are simply not allowed to come to your front door?” Ms. Ching said. “It is way past time for this to change,” she said.
“Fully vaccinated people should be able to visit Ottawa this summer … whether you are Canadian, Danish or Colombian, you should be welcome in our country.”
The Liberal government has previously cited the need to get sufficient support from provinces before loosening border restrictions. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited an 80-per-cent vaccination rate for eligible Canadians as the goal to aim for, saying that would keep the country safe from surges in new cases. Only Canadians aged 12 and older are eligible to receive shots.
On July 5, Canada began allowing fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents to skip quarantine upon return to Canada as long as they tested negative for COVID-19.