Parliament Hill was abuzz Wednesday amid reports that the federal government is planning on dropping COVID-19 vaccine requirements at the border, doing away with mandatory random COVID-19 testing, and making the ArriveCan application optional.
The government is expected to make these policy changes by the end of the month, sources told CTV News and other media outlets on Tuesday. The government had said in late June that existing border restrictions, including showing proof of vaccination to enter the country, would remain in place until at least Sept. 30.
As part of the current regime, foreign travellers need to provide proof of being fully vaccinated to enter Canada and unvaccinated Canadians or permanent residents need to provide a molecular COVID-19 test taken prior to entering and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
The government is also still requiring all travellers, regardless of citizenship, to upload their vaccine information and travel documents to the ArriveCan app within 72 hours of scheduled flights or arrival at a land border.
In mid-July, after pausing mandatory random testing at airports at the peak of this summers travel bottlenecks and delays, the Liberals rolled out a revised offsite system using ArriveCan to select a small percentage of fully vaccinated air travellers arriving into the country at four major Canadian airports: Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto.
With the current emergency order expiring on Sept. 30, the window is narrowing for Prime Minister Justin Trudeaus cabinet to extend or alter the special authorizations made under the Quarantine Act.
Peppered with questions on Wednesday morning about the anticipated change of course, Liberal ministers refused to confirm the reports, with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra saying no decision has been made and that they are constantly assessing the situation and making decisions based on the information we have.
“Whenever we have something to announce, we will not only say what the announcements are, but well explain our rationale for it,” said Alghabra.
Similarly, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said: these measures are always being reviewed on the basis of the evidence, prudence and the epidemiology. And as youve also been hearing, there are decisions to be made… soon and obviously communications will follow.
In French, Duclos pointed to the Sept. 30 expiration of current measures, and access to bivalent vaccine boosters.
The minister also said that as the government communicated throughout the evolution of its COVID-19 pandemic border measures—from outright travel bans from high-risk countries and mandatory quarantine hotels, to allowing unvaccinated Canadians to board planes and trains —it would be reassessing the rules.
MINISTERS DEFEND ARRIVECAN
Alghabra, who has faced considerable pressure from some in the aviation industry and opposition MPs to scrap the ArriveCan app completely, has consistently defended the use of the application, a defence he continued on Wednesday.
ArriveCan is a critical tool to process travelers with their requirements for the vaccine mandate…its a tool that helps processed arrivals as they arrive, he said.
The app rolled out early in the pandemic to help the CBSA process travellers more efficiently, and its use and functions have evolved over the two years since, with the government threatening fines for noncompliance under the Quarantine Act.
Amid pushback to travellers being forced into using the digital tool, a glitch that erroneously notified a number of people to quarantine, and now facing a constitutional challenge, the government has continuously defended sticking with the application.
Facing questions about the app from his perspective as Tourism Minister, Randy Boissonnault said Tuesday that he agrees ArriveCan has its use while referencing his desire for a frictionless border.
People travel and we want to make sure that people get through border as quickly as possible. Having that digitized borders is going to help us bring more people to the country, he said.
I cant share any cabinet confidences or whats taking place right now. Were going to continue to follow the science. Were going to continue to make sure that as we open up the economy we do so in a systematic and respectful way, Boissonnault said.
CONSERVATIVES TAKE CREDIT
Meanwhile, Conservatives on their way into their own caucus meeting on Wednesday were quick to try to pin the expected policy changes on the election of Pierre Poilievre as their party leader.
I think it might have something to do with the science changing Saturday night, said Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, referencing the Sept. 10 announcement of the results of the Conservative leadership race.
I think its really interesting… Were sitting at a week now under Pierres leadership, and now everything is changed. So its really nice to see them listening to us. Its nice to see them listening to the people have been saying this for a long time, said Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri, adding that the government needs to take responsibility for the ArriveCan issues Canadians have experienced.
About time, was how Conservative MP Mark Strahl responded to questions on Wednesday, while his colleague Kevin Waugh said it was long overdue.
Asked to respond to suggestions from the opposition that Poilievres push for COVID-19 border rules to be dropped was playing a role, Boissonnault said no.
The measures that we put in place during COVID had nothing to do with the Conservative Party, he said. And nothing that theyre doing on their side affects how were governing, or the steps were taking to keep Canadians safe.