News that the Canada-U.S. border is closing to non-essential travellers has left Manitobans with a multitude of questions, especially those who live near border crossings.
Mélanie Parent is a councillor for the Rural Municipality of Piney who lives in the southeastern Manitoba community of Sprague. She says her community has many ties to the city of Roseau, Minn., about 25 kilometres away.
“We think of it as part of our community,” she said. “Families marry across the border, people work there. I’m not sure how [the closure] is going to work.”
Parent has aunts, uncles and cousins in Roseau, and is upset she won’t be able to visit.
“They cannot come up. And I can’t go there,” she said. “I know of individuals whose parents live across the border, and they’re elderly. They’ll be separated now.”
The temporary border closure, announced Wednesday, affects tourists or people travelling for recreational purposes. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has said that people who cross the border to do essential work — such as medical workers — will not be affected, but there are still questions for residents in places like Sprague.
The nearest hospital to the community is in Roseau. Manitoba has a long-standing arrangement that allows residents in border towns, including Sprague, to access emergency health care there.
But Parent says it’s unclear whether that agreement will continue.
“I don’t know if we’ll still be able to access that medical centre,” she said. “Or what would happen when we return home.”
The closest Canadian health care facility is about 100 kilometres away, in Steinbach. That’s also where the closest supermarket will be, once the border closes.
“We have a very small grocery store,” says Parent. “I spoke to the grocer this morning and he can’t guarantee he’ll have supplies here for us.”
She says a lot of people in the rural municipality are dual citizens who hold jobs in the United States. Some are worried what might happen to these jobs if they can’t cross.
“For me it’s a big impact if they close the borders,” said Sprague resident Keith Preteau, who drives a forklift at a factory in Roseau.
“I go to the States five days a week for work, for grocery shopping, for visiting family and friends.”
Border officials are now asking Canadians returning home from the U.S. to self-isolate for 14 days. Preteau says he’d want to do that at home in Sprague.
“I could be out of work for a bit,” he said.
Preteau says he’s not sure whether he’d qualify for unemployment benefits from the U.S. under those circumstances.
It’s unclear when exactly the border restrictions will come into place, but Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier Wednesday it will happen within “hours or days.”
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