WASHINGTON – Canada could ease its restrictions at the U.S. border in late July or August, a top Canadian official said Tuesday, but other experts think the border won't be fully reopened until later this year.
Dominic LeBlanc, Canada's intergovernmental affairs minister, said at a virtual news conference that the government is developing a plan that could involve "a phased adjustment of border measures in July or later in August."
LeBlanc did not say how that phased adjustment would happen or what kind of travelers would be permitted into Canada, but it's widely presumed that the next step of the border reopening will allow vaccinated travelers to cross to visit loved ones or property on the other side of the border.
The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, and the latest monthlong extension of that closure is set to expire Monday.
"So, before the 21st of June, we'll obviously have something to say around these measures being rolled over and look ahead to possible adjustments over time," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc and other Canadian officials spoke hours after Politico held an online forum in which officials from both the United States and Canada offered their predictions for when the border ought to fully reopen.
At that event, Rep. Brian Higgins envisioned a Canada Day celebration at the Peace Bridge on July 1, where President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would meet to reopen the border.
"I think that would be a great demonstration of binational agreement, recognizing the good work of public health officials who guided us through this – and we're just following their recommendations," Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said.
He noted that public health officials say it's safe for people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to go without masks and to socialize without social distancing. That being the case, he said there's no reason why vaccinated people should not be allowed to cross the border.
Higgins' wish for a July 1 opening celebration came in response to a question regarding when panelists think the border will reopen. Every panelist took a dimmer view than the Buffalo congressman, a co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group.
Wayne Easter, a member of the Canadian Parliament and also a co-chair of that panel, said: "My heart is where Brian's is as well – opening quickly July 1st or 4th. But I actually think it'll be a phased approach, and I think we'll see quite an expansion of that phased approach as we get into the last of July."
Trudeau has been reluctant to reopen the border. Last week, his government took only a baby step toward doing so, announcing that in early July it would ease quarantine restrictions for Canadians returning home and others who have long had the right to travel to Canada. That easing will not allow any additional categories of Americans to cross into Canada.
Easter said Trudeau is in a difficult position, facing down Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a Conservative who has been saying border restrictions should be tightened. But Easter, of Prince Edward Island, said: "The border can't be tightened any more."
With the rate of Covid-19 vaccinations accelerating in Canada, the argument for keeping the border closed is getting weaker and weaker, the panelists said.
Asked when the border might reopen, Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at the University of Western Washington, said: "Politics always makes these estimates difficult, but I'm going to guess before the U.S. Labor Day."
But Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican and another co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, is much more pessimistic. His prediction: "Thanksgiving."
Canada's Thanksgiving Day is Oct. 11 this year, while America's is Nov. 25. Huizenga didn't say which one he meant.
At the news conference, Canadian officials also indicated that when they do loosen the travel restrictions, they will require visitors to show proof that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
"I think one would expect a continued distinction for a period of time between those who are vaccinated coming in and those who are not until there’s such a time as we can tolerate the risk in Canada, no matter whether someone is vaccinated or not," said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.