Why most Canadians support the Canada-U.S. border closure, despite the costs

By | September 15, 2020

Canadian support for keeping the border closed to Americans remains strong, despite a decline in new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and a decimated tourism industry.

A new poll by pollster Research Co. found that out of 1,000 Canadians surveyed online at the end of August, a whopping 90 per cent agreed with the current Canada-U.S. border closure to non-essential traffic. 

The show of support comes at a time when several Canadian border cities are licking their wounds over a loss of U.S. tourism. Nevertheless, they’re maintaining their support for the border closure, to help stop the spread of COVID-19 from the country with the world’s highest number of cases and deaths.

“As much as this hurts — and it hurts — it’s all about short-term pain for long-term gain,” said Jim Diodati, mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont.

He said that pre-pandemic, U.S. tourism pumped close to $1 billion annually into the economy of Niagara Falls and its surrounding area.

Even so, Diodati said he supports the border closure, and so do around a dozen other Ontario border-town mayors who took part in a video conference call with the federal government last week.

“We’re not in a hurry to open that border until we’ve got control of what’s happening on both sides,” he said. 

Despite the economic impact, Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont., supports the border closure. (Submitted by Jim Diodati)

Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, Ont. — who was also on the call — agrees. Tourists from neighbouring Michigan usually bring millions of dollars annually into Sarnia’s economy, but not this year.  

“We need to take care of our own people first,” said Bradley. “Of all the steps that we’ve taken in Ontario and taken locally to protect our public … to give all that up now, for a bump in dollars just doesn’t make sense.”

The Canada-U.S. border closure to non-essential traffic expires on Sept. 21. While American travellers — with the exception of some immediate family members — are barred from entering Canada, the U.S. still allows Canadians to fly to the country.

Both Ontario mayors predict the Canadian government will announce this week that it will extend the border closure for at least another 30 days. 

“I think it’s kind of a foregone conclusion,” said Diodati.

U.S. numbers decline

Canadians began loudly expressing support for the Canada-U.S. border closure on social media in July, when U.S. COVID-19 case numbers were soaring to new and worrisome highs. 

Since then, the U.S. numbers have declined — but Canadian support for the border closure hasn’t.

According to U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, new daily U.S. cases peaked above 70,000 in late July, then dropped to below 50,000 per day by mid-August. 

“It’s going down very rapidly,” U.S. President Donald Trump said last week. He said the U.S. has done “an amazing job” combating the spread of the virus.

Despite the news, Canadians continue to warn Americans to stay away. In the latest case last week, a truck with Texas license plates in Victoria was vandalized and spray-painted with “Trump.”

Canadians are also on the lookout for American travellers sneaking into the country. 

George Creek — a member of a group of volunteer boaters reporting U.S. pleasure boat sightings in Canadian waters to border officers — said he’s far from convinced that the U.S. has the virus under control.

“They’re so fractured down there. They have no national cohesive approach,” said Creek, who lives just outside Nanaimo, B.C.. “Their [medical] experts are being ignored.”

George Creek, a B.C. resident who is part of a group of volunteer Canadian boaters which has been reporting U.S. pleasure boat sightings in Canada, said the United States has ‘no cohesive approach’ to the pandemic. (Submitted by George Creek)

Global health specialist Steven Hoffman suggested that even with a decline in case numbers, many Canadians will continue to support the border closure due to concerns that politics is influencing the U.S. response to the virus.

“It really starts to raise questions among people as to whether the response is being designed in a way to maximize its effectiveness, or is it being designed in a way to maximize or to influence the outcome of a forthcoming election,” said Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science at Toronto’s York University. 

Infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness predicts the Canada-U.S. border will only open if a COVID-19 vaccine is created or if enough people have been infected with the virus and build herd immunity. 9:17

For example, at a U.S. rally in June, Trump told a group of supporters — who weren’t required to wear masks — that he wanted to “slow the [COVID-19] testing down.” 

Last month, the CDC changed its guidelines on COVID-19 testing to recommend that asymptomatic people who come into contact with an infected person “do not necessarily need a test.” The guideline change has been reportedly tied to Trump

Critics have also accused Trump of downplaying the severity of the virus. 

“There’s a lot of reasons why everyone in the world should be concerned about the way that this pandemic has been addressed in the United States,” said Hoffman. 

Diodati of Niagara Falls predicts Canada won’t entertain discussions over reopening the Canada-U.S. border until after the U.S. election, when perhaps politics is no longer muddying the waters.

“We call this silly season when there’s an election,” he said. “Let’s let the Americans get through their election process … and then we’re going to probably have more meaningful dialogue.”

The Research Co. poll surveyed 1,000 adults in Canada online between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points, nineteen times out of 20.

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