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 COVID-19 vaccination campaign 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. During an election, governments by convention 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.
Mr. Trudeau was asked about the tourism sector’s concerns during a visit to British Columbia on Thursday. He said the pandemic is not over but acknowledged the demand to allow in fully-vaccinated tourists. “We still have to be careful,” Mr. Trudeau said. The next step “will be looking at what measures we can allow for international travellers who are fully vaccinated. That will be our first focus, and we will have more to say in the coming weeks,” according to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister said, however, it would “quite awhile” before unvaccinated travellers are allowed into Canada.
Mr. Beatty 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 during a Thursday news conference in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Parliament Hill. He was speaking as a member of the Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable.
Joe Kowalski, founder of Wilderness Tours, who joined Mr. Beatty at the Thursday news conference, said it will take his company years to recover from the pandemic and described the bleak tourism business landscape in Canada right now as the Night of the Living Dead compared with the situation in the United States. “There is no excuse for it. It’s a travesty,” he said, urging Mr. Trudeau to “tear down that international border wall and let fully vaccinated” foreign travellers enter Canada.
Sueling Ching, president and chief executive of the Ottawa Board of Trade, also at 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.”
Destination Canada, a federal crown corporation, has estimated that over half a million tourism jobs were lost as a result of the pandemic in 2020.
It said the pandemic affected tourism more than any other sector. By December, 2020, it said “active tourism businesses” had shrunk nearly 10 per cent from January, 2020.
The Liberal government has previously cited the need to get sufficient support from provinces before loosening border restrictions. Last week, Mr. Trudeau cited an 80-per-cent vaccination rate for eligible Canadians as a target, saying that would keep the country safe from surges in new cases. 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. 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 the country as long as they tested negative for COVID-19.
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