Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on the defensive this week, as the travel industry came out swinging in response to Health Canada’s announcement 31MAY that it was extending existing COVID health protocols at the country’s borders until at least the end of JUN.
WestJet’s CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech quickly responded to the health protocol extension on social media, saying, “Vaccine mandate for air travellers and employees needs to be dropped.”
He blamed the processes around vaccine requirements for “operational challenges” at Canada’s airports, and says the time has come to eliminate the requirement altogether. “As vaccines are not preventing the spreading of the virus since #omicron, there is no more logic to maintain it.”
“The reality is, as much as people would like to pretend we’re not, we’re still in a pandemic,” the PM told reporters on 01JUN.
“I know people are eager to get back to things we love but what will also further damage our tourism industry is if we get another wave.”
But the very industry the PM professes to be protecting – is having none of it.
Federal health protocols, as well as insufficient outbound screening and inbound border officers – both under the purview of the federal government – are being blamed for inhibiting travel recovery and headline-grabbing lineups and delays at Canada’s major international airports.
At a press conference, industry groups pushed back against the government’s stance.
“We did our part to keep Canadians safe and now it is finally our turn to recover,” said Susie Grynol, President and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada at the press conference. “Travel is back with a vengeance and we could not be happier but the passenger experience at our Canadian airports is a challenge.”
The Canadian Airports Council (CAC) recognized some of the steps Ottawa has taken to boost staffing for CATSA and CBSA, but says it’s not enough.
Its interim president, Monette Pasher, said the organization is urging the federal government to take three necessary steps, “to immediately alleviate pressure on the system.” They include:
- removing onsite mandatory testing from Canada’s airports,
- removing the Public Health Agency of Canada’s duplicate health check questions at government custom checkpoints and at the international border and
- removing vaccination mandates for CATSA and CBSA workers.
The Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable is also using Canada’s National Tourism Week to highlight the need for the same measures to provide “urgent relief” at Canada’s air borders before the middle of JUN.
Saying the federal government’s announced measures are “longer-term solutions that will take weeks before materially impacting wait times for travellers at Canadian airports,” it’s also calling on Ottawa to:
- establish “clear service standard benchmarks” for security and customs processing of passengers travelling through Canadian airports.
“To help the sector recover, the Roundtable is urging the federal government to remove bottleneck, bureaucratic processes and streamline government checkpoints. The government needs to require their agencies need to meet their intended levels of service and performance benchmarks,” the industry group said in a statement.
“Canadians are ready to travel abroad, and international travellers are ready to travel to Canada. As demand for travel returns and other global economies re-open, Canada’s border policies and resources need to reflect the new reality.”
It denies the PM’s claims that current border health measures remain “anchored in science.”
Rather, the Roundtable insists that the travel industry is being “singled out with unscientific and unnecessary COVID policies” that are not applicable in other aspects of life.
As an alternative to random airport testing to identify COVID-19 variants, the Roundtable suggests shifting the responsibility to the community at large, perhaps through the use of “community wastewater testing,” a method used by medical communities. “Canada’s airports simply do have the infrastructure or the space to provide on-site passenger testing for COVID-19,” the group said.