Daines, Tester call for reopening of U.S.-Canada border

Both of Montana’s senators have called on the Biden administration to work with Canadian officials to fully reopen the northern border, which has been closed to nonessential travel since March 2020 to prevent the coronavirus from spreading between the two countries.

U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, say the border can safely be reopened to boost trade, restore tourism and avoid further hurting the economy — although vaccination rates remain low in northwestern Montana and neighboring Alberta.

“While the efforts initially taken were critical to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, circumstances have drastically changed and now is the time to work with your Canadian counterparts to reconsider the present situation and prioritize reopening the northern border with appropriate health and safety protocols,” Daines wrote in a March 10 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The movement of people and goods across the border “is critically important for Montana’s economy,” Daines added. “This is particularly true for Montanans dependent on tourism and agriculture, the main drivers of our economy and the sectors that rely most heavily on cross-border access.”

The initial agreement to close the border has been extended on a month-to-month basis throughout the pandemic, and news reports in both countries indicate the closure will be extended again through June 21. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Tuesday that 75% of the country’s population will need to be fully vaccinated before he considers reopening the border, CTV News reported.

THE SHARE of Canadians who have received a first vaccine dose is approaching 50%, but the percentage of fully vaccinated residents remains in the low single digits. Alberta health officials reported 42.8% of the province’s population had received at least one dose as of Monday, but only 7.4% of residents were fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, vaccination rates in Flathead County are lagging behind statewide and national averages. Only about a quarter of county residents are fully immunized.

Though some have found ways around cross-border travel restrictions, visitors to Canada are currently limited to a narrow definition of “essential” travelers, including immediate family members of Canada residents, and they must provide a plan to self-quarantine for 14 days after entering the country.

Tester sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, urging him to “work with the Canadian government to develop an actionable plan to reopen the northern border for all trade and travel in a timely manner.”

“As a farmer in north-central Montana, I hear often from my neighbors and others in the region about the negative impact the continued border closure has on their daily lives,” Tester wrote. “Each day that passes without resolution is a hit to family farmers and ranchers, small businesses and the rural communities along the border.”

Tester called for a reopening plan that includes maintaining 24-hour operation of ports of entry and accounts for “the unique needs of rural states like Montana.”

“Any reopening plan must respect local public health guidance, include continued vaccination efforts and ensure that the border can remain open,” he wrote. “The plan and benchmarks should also be transparent, include clear guidance on timing and address the ongoing confusion and frustration on both sides of the border.”