CANADIAN BORDER (WIVB/WFFF/WWTI) — Canadian officials are finalizing a plan to ease COVID-19 testing requirements for short-term travelers returning home. It’s welcome news for the North Country, where officials hope that less red tape will bring more international business.

Although it’s unclear when the changes could take shape, Canada is ready to relax the testing rule for its own citizens returning home when they visit the U.S. Vaccinated Canadians stateside for under 72 hours won’t have to show a negative PCR test upon returning home anymore.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with American politicians about this decision during a meeting in Washington Wednesday. Rep. Elise Stefanik met with Trudeau, and they talked travel along the Northern Border, North American energy security, and how to strengthen supply chains between the two countries and lessen reliance on China.

Canada is not only America’s closest ally and neighbor. It is an essential partner to New York’s North Country,” Stefanik said. “I appreciate Canada’s partnership in reopening the Northern Border and have urged bilateral coordination and continued progress towards fully restoring cross-border travel.

Rep. Stefanik meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
(courtesy: Office of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik)

Rep. Brian Higgins was also among those meeting with Trudeau. He says the meeting went well, but more work must be done to make things easier to travel between the borders. “This needs to be over,” he said. “The testing mandate is unpleasant, it’s inconvenient, it’s costly and, more importantly for the fully vaccinated, it’s unnecessary.”

Canadian officials are expected to announce new plans for the border by the end of this week, and that changes to the testing requirement will come in phases. The first phase would eliminate the mandate for Canadian citizens.

“Over the course of the last 20 months, we’ve lost probably nearly a billion dollars in total economic impact from the loss of Canadian travelers, so this truly gets rid of a big barrier,” said Visit Buffalo Niagara President Patrick Kaler.

North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas said this small change could make a big difference across the region. “This will allow casual travel by our Canadian neighbors, friends, and business partners to come down for a day, a meeting,” he said. “Go to a restaurant or go skiing this winter. Do things that they want to do—visit family and friends.”

Douglas said he’s curious when the U.S. will follow suit for returning Americans, adding that testing requirements have proven to be a big turn-off for travelers. “When there’s a lot of rigmarole you’ve got to go through plus $150 for a test when you only intend to go for a day trip, it didn’t make sense,” he said. “They’ve heard, and understand that it didn’t make sense.”

At this point, Trudeau as not announced when Canada will ease the testing requirement for Americans crossing the Northern border.

Reacting to the planned announcement, North Country Assemblyman Billy Jones applauded the swift action of Canadian officials. “The burdensome testing requirement has prevented day-trippers and short-term visitors from coming to the North Country, and our regional economies have suffered enough,” he said.

“Both the United States and Canada—Western New York and Southern Ontario—benefit, because our economies are deeply integrated. Our life qualities are deeply integrated,” Higgins agreed. “I will be satisfied when we get back to a sense of normalcy, when we have a consistent policy, when we have both the United States and Canada speaking with one voice.”

Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman said he hopes the region will see immediate benefit once the changes are in place. “Government often works at a glacial speed, but once you start to see movement, it takes on a whole new direction,” he said. “We still have a ways to go, but I’m heartened to see the direction we’re going in.”

Trudeau is visiting Washington D.C. for a scheduled multilateral meeting with President Biden on Thursday. Other lawmakers attending the Wednesday meeting included Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Steny Hoyer, Kevin Brady, Micheal McCaul, Gregory Meeks, Richard Neal, Bennie Thompson, Bill Huizenga, and Suzan Delbene.