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Dokken: It's time for the U.S. and Canada to get serious about reopening the border

Lawmakers on both sides of the border have expressed frustration at the inertia that U.S. and Canadian leaders have shown in announcing plans for reopening the borders to nonessential travel, choosing instead to extend the border closure in one-month increments on the 21st of every month since March 2020.

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A floatplane pulls up to a dock on a remote lake north of Pickle Lake, Ont., in the summer of 2003. Many Canadian fishing camps have remained closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and anxiously await the reopening of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
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The thick smoke that was in the air earlier this week from fires in northwestern Ontario reminded me yet again of where I’d be this week if the fishing trip we rescheduled last year for this year had gone on as (re)scheduled, and the Canadian border was actually open to the American tourists who so badly want to return.

Instead, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced us to reschedule our trip to a remote outpost camp north of Red Lake, Ont., yet again for similar dates in 2022.

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Here’s hoping the much-anticipated trip can finally happen next year. I know the outfitter through which we booked the trip – and every other outfitter in Canada, I’m sure – is hoping to get U.S. customers back, as well, since they account for more than 90% of their business in many cases.
Lawmakers on both sides of the border have expressed frustration at the inertia that U.S. and Canadian leaders have shown in announcing plans for reopening the borders to nonessential travel, choosing instead to extend the border closure in one-month increments on the 21st of every month since March 2020.

According to Politico, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., put it bluntly last month in a Twitter post when the governments announced the border closure would be extended until July 21.

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“There’s no other way to say it: another month’s delay is bull****,” tweeted Higgins, who also is co-chairman of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, Politico reported.

I agree.

I’ve given up trying to predict when I can again visit Canadian friends or wet a line in Canadian water, but positive signs are beginning to emerge.

As The Associated Press reported earlier this week, Canada on Monday, July 5, announced that fully vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents now can skip a 14-day quarantine requirement in effect since March 2020 upon returning to Canada. The same goes for fully vaccinated air travelers, who no longer have to have to spend their first three days in a government-approved Canadian hotel, the AP reported.

“We’re very hopeful that we’re going to see new steps on reopening announced in the coming weeks,” Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., quoted in the AP story. “We’re going to make sure that we’re not seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, because nobody wants to go back to further restrictions after having done so much and sacrificed so much to get to this point.”

Whether Trudeau’s statement is more than just words remains to be seen, but this much I do know: Canadian fishing lodges and other businesses that rely on nonessential travel are dying a slow death because of the border restrictions.

Already, many Canadian camps have chosen to remain closed for the second year in a row rather than try to open for a limited season in the event the border should reopen yet this summer.

Marketing to Canadians, who until recently also have faced numerous travel restrictions as the country gets its vaccination rate up to speed and works to bring a third COVID-19 wave under control, hasn’t been an option, either.

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Bolton Lake Lodge & Outposts in northern Manitoba is one of the camps to recently pull the plug on the 2021 season. Here’s how the lodge described the decision in its summer 2021 newsletter:

“It’s heartbreaking that we will not be able to welcome guests again this summer, but it’s out of our control and not much we can do about it. It’s not in the cards for us to wait until the end of July in hopes that we may or may not have a few weeks available to us to welcome guests. There is just too much overhead and planning involved to throw it all together for a few weeks. Most of our staff have been able to secure odd jobs and other work for the summer to get them by, so at this point we are cutting our losses and moving forward.”

If fully vaccinated Canadians now can travel freely within their country, there’s no reason fully vaccinated Americans who can show proof of those vaccinations shouldn’t be able to cross the border again, as well. The same, of course, goes for fully vaccinated Canadians crossing into the U.S.

The prospect of returning to Canada also could have a secondary benefit on this side of the border by encouraging anglers who have resisted vaccination to get off the fence and get the jab. I know people in my circle of friends who have refused the shot – much to the frustration of myself and others – but the opportunity to fish in Canada again could be a strong motivation.

It’s almost a guarantee that Canada will require proof of vaccination to enter the country, and they have every right to do so.

Regardless of how a reopening plan unfolds, it needs to happen soon. Resorts and other businesses that depend on nonessential travelers crossing the border have been held hostage long enough.

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They can’t survive much longer.

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Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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