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Provinces working with Ottawa on plan to reopen U.S.-Canada border

B.C. Premier John Horgan says premiers have been working on a plan to restart travel between the United States and Canada.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Horgan mentioned the "casual" conversations that are taking place.

The decision to reopen the border is ultimately up to the federal government but, as with so many things during the COVID-19 pandemic, it requires collaboration with the provinces.

The border has been closed for all but essential travel since March 2020 and is closed until at least June 21.

"We've been working casually and behind the scenes with other provinces to look at how our restart of borders would look, and I give full credit to the prime minister and his team for not imposing upon provinces a view on how we should do that," Horgan said.

"They've been seeking advice and input from all of us, from coast to coast to coast, about how best for all of us to come back and welcome the world to Canada and I think that's the appropriate way forward."

There is mounting pressure on the federal and provincial governments to create a timeline for reopening the borders.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) is calling on both levels of government to create a plan similar to B.C.'s restart plan, which would include benchmarks around COVID-19 case numbers and vaccination rates.

"We are asking the province to work with the federal government to lay out those markers so we can plan for a summer and a fall and a winter that looks much more like what we are used to," GVBOT CEO Bridgitte Anderson said.

Metro Vancouver's economy relies heavily on international visitors.

Large conventions and meetings are often booked years in advance and Anderson is worried B.C. may lose out on what has been a key economic driver.

"The lack of clarity means we could lose out on jurisdictions who have been clear," Anderson said. "Conferences plan two to three years out."

In the U.S., New York Rep. Brian Higgins, whose constituency shares a border with Ontario, is calling for a unilateral reopening of the border.

This would allow Canadians into the U.S., but they would be required to produce a negative PCR COVID-19 test and isolate for 14 days after returning back to Canada at a land border under the current rules.

"I think people in the United States and Canada need some sense of vision as to what we need to do in order to get the border open again," Higgins told WGRZ in Buffalo.

"When there is nothing coming out relative to public comments about the border and about a vision for opening - I think that's a terrible disservice to the people in the United States and Western New York and the people - the province of Ontario and the entire country of Canada."

Horgan says Canadian provinces need to factor in immunization rates.

Currently, 41.4 per cent of the population in the U.S. is fully vaccinated and 51.3 per cent have received at least one dose.

In Canada, only 5.8 per cent are fully vaccinated but 58.5 per cent have received at least one dose.

"There are concerns, of course, by waiting, but I think there are an equal number of people who are very grateful that we're going to wait and see what immunization rates are like in the U.S. and in other jurisdictions around the world before we welcome the world back to British Columbia or to Canada," Horgan said.

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