By Grace Brown, Opinion Contributor
Border communities such as Niagara Falls eagerly welcome back cross-border friends to their communities. (Kyra Laurie for The Griffin)
This past Monday, Nov. 8, the Canadian border was finally reopened to land crossings for the first time since March 2020. For many, especially residents of bordering communities like Western New York, this marked the end of a treacherously long 19-month strain on commerce, relationships and careers.
Aside from depriving local economies such as those of Buffalo, Lewiston and Ellicottville of essential tourist revenue, travel restrictions induced as pandemic response tactics damaged friendships, families and professional relationships as well.
The following two semesters, Canadian students at Canisius reported being unable to visit family over the border for extended periods of time — including breaks — thereby rendering them orphaned over holiday vacations. Others, including previous faculty members, endured the rigorous COVID-19 testing procedures regularly to traverse the border for work under the provision of their essential requirement.
Those less fortunate included Candians with recreational involvements or ownerships in the United States who suddenly became unable to visit or manage their properties across the Niagara River. Accordingly, border-crossing towns and cities felt an aching whole to gape within their communities — and economies as well.
Ellicottville, New York, is established a mere 52 miles (approximately one hour by car via the 219) south of the city of Buffalo. Primarily a ski resort town, the local economy is driven solely by tourism; the town produces no valuable goods except snow, and reportedly, “just fun.” A large percentage of the seasonal migration flowing into the small village is composed of Canadians, notably emigrating for a few months or routine weekends from the northern town of St. Catherine’s.
These visitors compose not only a lively and friendly portion of the community, but moreover, a large segment of the economic support base. Without the addition of their freshly converted dollars, the quaint shops and individually owned restaurants of Ellicottville have suffered drastically and resulted in the expected COVID-catalyzed closures. The myriad of newly turned over retail establishments might throw visitors for a loop when driving up Main Street.
Holiday Valley, a resort often frequented by Buffalonians, has lost significant income and witnessed a noticeable uptick in properties for sale as Canadians forfeited connection with their second homes. While the decreased traffic may not have been missed on the socially distanced slopes, they most certainly were in the stagnating local economy.
While the decreased traffic may not have been missed on the socially distanced slopes, they most certainly were in the stagnating local economy. In fact, the resort is so elated to welcome back Canadian customers that signs were recently posted around the entire resort, including stretches of Route 219, featuring large red maple leaf decals and text reading, “Welcome back friends, we missed you!”
Despite the excitement lacing these promises of free border traffic, many are still tempering their enthusiasm with realism. As it stands, Canada restricts travel into the country to only fully vaccinated foreigners and requires a valid negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entrance — including citizens returning home. This mandate attaches a non-negligible fee to each border crossing, in a time when financial burdens are already augmented by inflated prices and decreased work hours.
Brian Higgins, Congressman for Buffalo, noted this fact in a recent interview with the Washington Post. “The expectation that fully vaccinated Canadians and Americans will be able to afford multiple tests per week for the indefinite future to go about their business ignores the economic reality,” he remarked.
This sentiment has been validated by the observation of stubbornly stale tourist traffic in other communities generally reliant on incoming foreigners, such as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Thousand Islands.
Day trips have been severely diminished by the financial and logistical burden of acquiring a negative COVID test within days of embarking on a journey; not only is it difficult to plan in advance without the secure guaranteed ability to travel, but home-administered tests are no longer considered credible in the modern environment where mutations, such as the Delta variant, reduce the reliability of a previously simple solution.
That being said, proprietors of establishments in Western New York communities like Buffalo, Ellicottville or Niagara Falls should not expect a commercial influx yet, regardless of how desperately its reprieve has been long sought.
Many in the media suspected that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau intentionally prolonged opening the borders in an effort to reassure his successful retention of power in the nation’s election this past September. Though the notion of suppressing a seasonal rise in COVID-19 cases through limiting exposure to foreigners seems reasonable, the logic crumbles under further scrutiny.
COVID-19 was already recognized as a globally pervasive pandemic, and then Governor Andrew Cuomo had revoked the mandatory 14-day quarantine of outside travelers entering New York State following scientific evidence of its ineffectiveness. In addition, I recall Canadian classmates and coworkers in the Buffalo area remarking on the persistent prevalence of elevated COVID cases in their homeland.
Therefore, the pretense of both Canada as being a somehow sterile land of sanitary living, and the presumption of land border crossing as being dangerous, are both discredited. In all reality, Trudeau should have eliminated restrictions on nonessential crossings long ago so as to assist in the revitalization of the economies on each side of the border, rather than prioritize his own reelection above the livelihoods of Canadian citizens, as well as their neighbors here in Western New York.
Now, the least compensation he can offer is the establishment of the most free and accessible border travel initiatives available; specifically, those that do not dissuade commerce by means of an overpriced COVID-19 test.