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Border reopening talks need to include businesses: Surrey Board of Trade

Last Updated May 27, 2021 at 6:47 am PDT

The U.S. port of entry into Blaine, Wash., is seen at a very quiet Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

SBoT urges feds to include businesses, particularly those reliant on cross-border travel, in reopening talks

Surrey Board of Trade concerned with lack of consultation with border-city businesses

Unclear when Canada-U.S. land border will reopen to non-essential traffic; current restrictions expire in June

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – There are rumblings the U.S. wants to reopen its border with Canada in late June, according to the Surrey Board of Trade, and businesses that B.C. border city want more of a focus from Canada on getting things flowing both ways across the 49th Parallel.

The Surrey Board of Trade wants local businesses to have a voice in those talks, saying that city is home to many businesses and people who are anxious and would be directly impacted by the lifting of travel restrictions.

“In Surrey, we have the greatest number of manufacturers within British Columbia. A lot of people movement across the border — we are a border city,” explained Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade.

Without giving any specific dates, federal Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has hinted changes are coming soon to some border policies. However, Huberman says businesses are totally in the dark.

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She stresses the need for comprehensive pre-planning, including talks with the private sector, if Canada is moving toward re-opening the land border.

“We’re really concerned about the fact that there’s been no consultation, no regional representation of stakeholders in a joint decision that needs to be made in reopening that border,” she told NEWS 1130. “It’s not like a flick of a light switch. There needs to be significant planning on both sides of the border to ensure health and safety protocols, to ensure mechanisms are in place, for border guards to ask the right questions to ensure expediency in the flow of goods and people.”

The current restrictions, which limit most non-essential travel between the two countries by land, are set to expire June 21. They were first introduced in March 2020 and have been extended on a monthly basis since.

If the U.S. were to reopen its side, at this point, there would still be restrictions heading into Canada, including quarantine requirements. It would also likely complicate other travel, opening the door for people to try to circumvent other quarantine requirements, such as the up-to-three-night stay in a government-designated hotel.

Huberman says the border only being open in one way could also result in loss of business in Canada, with many people likely to head south for things like tourism and shopping.

“People are antsy about getting out, moving, and travelling, and I think some would take the chance and go across that border and spend that money there,” she said. “I think we would see loss in terms of lost revenue for retailers, for hospitality, for tourism, not only in Surrey but also within British Columbia.”

Earlier in May, Bloomberg reported preliminary talks had begun within the federal government in Canada about reopening the land border. The outlet, citing multiple sources, reported one proposal being considered by the Trudeau government was whether to implement a “two-track system” that would allow for eased quarantine and testing measures for vaccinated travellers.

Vaccination campaigns have ramped up significantly on both sides of the border in recent months.

Huberman says she understands why it was necessary to close land crossings to non-essential traffic in the thick of the pandemic. However, she says with Washington state surpassing B.C. in its vaccination numbers, and with plans laid out to get life back to near normal in the coming months, she says it’s time to focus on industries that rely on movement between the two countries.

“Such as our tourism, hospitality, arts and culture [industries],” she explained. “Even our manufacturing community, where many of those businesses were able to be open during the pandemic as a result of being labelled an essential service, some workers also need to go across the border as well. There needs to be some level of expediency, and dialogue, and efficiency when that border is reopened with the private sector, and we want to do it well.”

Huberman says the Surrey Board of Trade has reached out to some counterparts in Washington state, noting they agree that planning is required.

“We don’t know what’s happening with the federal government and their reopening plan with the border, and it’s very concerning,” she said.

The Surrey Board of Trade is also planning to propose two policies to the BC Chamber of Commerce for support. They include the call for consultation with businesses, as well as a “comprehensive support and plan” for the air transportation industry.

-With files from Robyn Crawford