Jul 7, 2022
Below is an article from Buffalo News, written by Robert J. McCarthy, posted on July 6, 2022. We would like to thank Kelly Rapone at Genesee County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center for sharing it with us:
- Crossing the Peace Bridge on Canada Day or Fourth of July, a decades-long tradition for people on both sides of the border, remains a complicated challenge this holiday weekend.
The Canadian government last week extended until Sept. 30 a requirement for visitors to complete its confusing ArriveCan app for Covid-19 concerns, and as a result, the summer tourism season appears doomed for the third year in a row. Reluctant travelers, it seems, just don't want to deal with ArriveCan.
The U.S.-Canadian border will open a bit more starting Monday, as Canada eases its requirement that most visiting children be vaccinated and abandons its mandate that vaccinated visitors provide a quarantine plan just in case they come down with Covid-19.
Now, officials and stakeholders in Buffalo, Fort Erie, Ontario, Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Niagara Falls, Ontario, as well as across the 3,000-mile boundary, are voicing concerns that approach outrage. Local economies depending on cross-border traffic, they say, continue to suffer because of restrictions that long ago became unnecessary as Covid-19 levels ease.
Niagara Falls, one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, still marks anemic cross-border visits because of requirements that include entering vaccination status and exact travel destinations into the app. The Peace Bridge Authority and Niagara Falls Bridge Commission report plummeting revenues from traffic levels that are about half of pre-pandemic 2019. Ditto for duty free stores. And many travelers eager to renew normal visits across the border simply look at other alternatives, put off by Ottawa's continuing requirements.
"At a time when most people are getting back to a semblance of normality, the border communities in the U.S. and Canada are not nearly where they should be," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. "This is the beginning of the travel season for 2022 and we still have all this redundancy and obstacles that we need to get rid of."
End of Canadian Covid-19 testing requirement prompts joy – but one concern remains
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Higgins has emerged as one of the policy's most vocal critics, even broaching the subject with Canada's prime minister and its ambassador to Washington. He says the latest statistics show a decrease of 70,000 vehicle-crossings per month at the Peace Bridge, proving that travelers are shunning cross-border trips because of the ArriveCan requirement. The border experience, he says, works only if travelers can cross with little hassle and in a reasonable amount of time.
"All that has been taken away," Higgins said, noting travelers are shunning the bother of ArriveCan. "People will just do different things."
His concerns are echoing in Ottawa. Tony Baldinelli, the Conservative member of Parliament from Niagara Falls, is fuming after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government extended the requirement for the duration of the summer. He points out that 40,000 people in the Niagara Region work in the tourism industry, that summer accounts for 75% of annual revenues, and that 50% of the area's visitors originate in the U.S.
"So why put in place this disincentive for our American friends to come over?" he asks. "It's unbelievable that this Liberal government continues to ignore this. Instead, they continue to put in place obstacles like ArriveCan that tie one hand of the tourist industry behind its back."
Ottawa announced Wednesday that the ArriveCan requirement will continue, dashing the hopes of many on both sides of the border for an end in time for the holiday weekend. But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Covid-19 remains a concern.
Canada is changing testing rules. Border crossers are still unhappy
As of 12:01 a.m. Monday, people entering Canada will no longer have to present proof of a negative PCR test for Covid-19. Instead, they will have to prove that they have passed either a PCR test or an approved rapid antigen test administered by a laboratory.
“As we move into the next phase of our Covid-19 response, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over," he said this week in a statement. "We must continue to do all that we can to keep ourselves and others safe from the virus."
But Baldinelli, a member of Parliament's International Trade Committee, points to transcripts of recent Ottawa hearings that underscore concerns from across Canada. Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, told the committee that tourism spending has decreased 50% from pre-pandemic levels, that the number of overnight foreign travelers has dropped 89%, and that the industry has lost 400,000 jobs. She estimates the Canadian tourist industry may not return to 2019 levels until 2026.
Potter also reminded the committee that proof of vaccination is no longer required on public transit, in stadiums or in restaurants across the country.
"Travel and tourism is the only industry that still has restrictions associated with participation in the activity," she said. "Every other industry in the economy does not."
Mayors of Canada's border communities, including Jim Diodati of Niagara Falls, Ontario, are also joining the chorus. He told Canada's National Observer at an Ottawa news conference last month that requiring use of the app or online portal to the Canada Border Services Agency has outlived its usefulness.
"We all supported the federal government with all the restrictions at the border," Diodati said then. "But the science is now telling us that having these restrictions at the border (is) no longer serving us."
In addition, the two international bodies governing border crossings across the Niagara River fear major financial problems if normal traffic levels do not resume soon. Ron Rienas, general manager of the Peace Bridge Authority, said crossings remain 44% below normal, even after the Canadian government lifted testing requirements in April. Similar declines are reported by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, he said.
"So people aren't crossing the border, even though they can," Rienas said.
In a submission to Parliament last month, Rienas said the continuing requirements have had a "devastating impact on our toll revenues, the tourism industry and other border dependent businesses like Duty Free stores." He said most U.S. travelers are unfamiliar with ArriveCan and must often complete the requirements at the border, resulting in inordinately long processing times and backups.
Rienas also told Parliament the technology discriminates against seniors unfamiliar with computers and smart phones, and that it discourages discretionary travel familiar to a border community.
"The nature of this binational community is being able to cross frequently to visit friends or family, for dinner, a show, a winery tour, a baseball game, shopping, beach, etc., without going through the process and inconvenience of having to file with ArriveCan each and every time," he said. "People just won't bother to cross the border for discretionary travel as they have for decades."
Higgins, meanwhile, noted the downturn in bridge traffic also affects U.S. interests, including airports in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, pro sports franchises and retailers used to a binational economy. He suggests Trudeau and President Biden personally discuss solutions to the problem, since any effort below their level has so far failed.
"After all," he said, "we're not enemies."