Continued U.S. border closure bad for Winnipeg bus company’s business

WINNIPEG — The United States is keeping its land border with Canada closed to non-essential travel for at least another month.

The restrictions have been in place since March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the brakes on a big source of revenue for one local company.

“I would say the U.S. part of our business is about 20 to 25 per cent,” said John Fehr, president of Beaver Bus Lines.

The news came on what had actually been a good day for Fehr. The Liberals and Conservatives hired the company for transportation during campaign stops in Winnipeg. But the announcement from the U.S. overshadowed the slight pickup in activity.

“It definitely affects our business,” Fehr said of the continued border restrictions. “We do charters for all kinds of groups, whether it’s schools, universities, colleges, sports teams.”

The continued restrictions mean no charters or tours for Canadians who want to travel south of the border and that means Fehr won’t yet be able to hire back all of the employees he’s had to lay off during the pandemic.

The U.S., which is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases, said the measures will remain in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19 including the Delta variant.

Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said the decision is unfortunate.

“One of the things that we’ve enjoyed that has fuelled our economic prosperity in Canada and the United States and throughout North America has been a border that’s allowed the free flow of people and goods,” Remillard said. “Today’s announcement by the U.S. adds a layer of disruption to that free flow and will have an impact, not as much, per se, had the decision been the reverse where Canada kept the border closed and the U.S. kept it open.”

Canada reopened its border to fully vaccinated Americans for non-essential travel Aug. 9, leaving some people at The Forks in Winnipeg Friday afternoon questioning the decision to keep fully vaccinated Canadians out.

“It just seems unfair that one way is okay and the other way isn’t,” said Shirley Hill. “It doesn’t affect us because we’re not going to go there.”

Glenn Nanka said it means family trips to Grand Forks, ND., to visit friends and shop will remain on hold until further notice.

“It’s been two years since we’ve been able to see them,” said Nanka. “We’re hoping to head down there as soon as we can, as soon as the border’s open.”

On the campaign trail in Winnipeg Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau addressed the ongoing closure.

“We will work together as much as possible to coordinate, to make sure things are going well but every country gets to make its own decisions about how to best keep their citizens safe,” Trudeau said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who was also in Winnipeg, spoke about the economic importance of free trade and the flow of goods, services and people across the border.

“It’s very possible to have a safe reopening of our border if we use rapid testing at the border, if we use the levels of vaccinations from Americans entering our country,” O’Toole said.

As for Fehr, he doesn’t expect business will return to normal for Beaver Bus Lines anytime soon.

“Maybe by late fall or maybe by spring of next year things will open up and, of course, people will be travelling again and we can start going to the U.S.,” Fehr said.

Until then, some of his buses will remain parked with fewer places to go.

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