National Post (National Edition)
The border should be a ballot question
Canada's borders are reopening, Delta variant be damned: On Monday the federal government confirmed last week's reports that fully vaccinated Americans would be allowed into Canada beginning in August (on the ninth), and lesser foreigners beginning in September (on the seventh). International flights will be allowed to touch down at five additional airports: Halifax, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton. The ludicrous national joke that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government made of hotel quarantine will expire Aug. 9, as will mandatory COVID testing for all arriving passengers.
In the meantime, here's what Terminal One at Toronto's low-energy Pearson International Airport looked like on Sunday afternoon, when I returned from a two-week freedom safari in New York: Immediately upon exiting the baggage hall, passengers faced a queue for mandatory arrival testing — or, rather, a queue to join the queue, and it was threatening to back up into the baggage hall itself.
An employee urged travellers to bunch up closer to each other to make room, against all public health advice, but it looked like a losing battle. On seeing the actual queue, based on previous experience with a much shorter one in February, I eyeballed the wait at perhaps two hours.
Readers, I was livid. But we were all Canadians, so no one raised a fuss. No one stormed off, even knowing that — famously — no one was likely to stop them from hailing a taxi and disappearing. There was mild grumbling at worst. If my fellow travellers were inclined to blame Ottawa for foisting this situation upon them, they weren't saying it out loud. And in any case, after 50 minutes or so, salvation arrived: Staff suddenly started ripping open boxes of at-home testing kits and giving them away like an over-caffeinated Oprah Winfrey. Said staff made no note of who was receiving the tests, which seemed odd, but I was too relieved to care.
I cannot speak to the athome testing experience, which must be completed in the presence of a telehealth nurse. “You are attempting to join at peak hours,” the website keeps telling me. It suggests I come back in the evening. Nor can I speak to what would happen if I or my fellow passengers had just chucked our tests in the garbage. I suspect the answer is “nothing,” but then, sometimes the feds surprise me with their zealousness: The last time I returned home from abroad, a private security guard under contract from the federal government pounded on my apartment door like he was raiding a meth lab and demanded I submit to his quarantine-related interrogations.
We are on the cusp of an election campaign, apparently, though not for any good reason. It has only been 21 months since the last one. Trudeau's minority is robust, and the only party he needs to keep happy is the NDP, which only want to push his agenda further left — somewhere Trudeau seems perfectly comfortable. Liberals will warn you in hushed tones of the terrible danger a Conservative government would represent to everything Canadians hold dear. So why take the risk, especially when there's so little reward on offer?
What would this election be about? What's the ballot question?
At the very least, surely, any “early election” held in the middle of a deadly oncea-century pandemic has to be a referendum on the government in question's handling of the crisis. And the Liberals have a defensible record on some fronts — especially vaccine procurement, which has turned into a shocking success story. Polls reliably show Canadians
tend to blame their provincial governments for COVID-related failures more than the feds, which is as it should be.
The federal government's performance at the border has been objectively terrible, however. The Liberals have strenuously dismissed all manner of proposals as downright un-Canadian — closing borders entirely, closing borders to travellers from certain countries, banning flights from COVID hot spots, testing before departure and on arrival, hotel quarantine — only to wake up one morning and implement them in the most half-assed fashion imaginable.
That resolute unseriousness is bad enough, insulting enough, as an abstraction. But it's critically important. Canada's fight against COVID-19 was never going to be won or lost at its international borders. The fight against a much more deadly and virulent virus might well have been, though, and might well be in future. There is no reason to believe the federal government's response would be any less terrible in such an event.
Would a replacement government do better? If so, how?
That won't be the ballot question. But if we have to have an election, it bloody should be.