Jedwab: Much at stake for Canadians in U.S. election, including when we can open the border

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On Tuesday, Americans will be voting in one of the most critical elections that country has faced in some time.

The decision in the U.S. election is ultimately to be made by Americans alone, but that doesn't stop us from giving advice to the neighbours that have consistently described us as their best friends. After all, that’s what friends are for. 

The U.S. is like a second home to many Canadians. We’re frequent visitors to the country and many of us have family or friends that live there. There are few countries in the world that are following the elections as closely as Canada.

As a result of the spread of COVID-19, our land borders with the U.S. are currently closed and the vast majority of Canadians want to keep it that way for the foreseeable future. A lesser majority of Americans also prefer keeping the borders with Canada shut as a protective measure against the spread of the virus.

An October survey by Leger-ACS reveals that 61 per cent of Canadians don’t trust Americans. There is no doubt that how the contagion has been handled in the United States has soured our relationship and diminished the trust that most of us traditionally vest in our neighbours. It is very important to restore the level of trust to where it was prior to COVID-19.

Given the substantial numbers of cases of COVID-19 in the United States and the recent record acceleration in the spread of the contagion, it is not surprising that so many Canadians are uncomfortable with cross-border travel. Even if our government lifted existing restrictions, surveys indicate two in three Canadians would still be uneasy about visiting the United States.

Ideally, we all want to reopen our borders as soon as possible. Like many of you, I very much miss visiting my family and friends in the United States (and also miss many people who live nearby). To become more comfortable with that idea, we need to reduce the spread of the contagion -- and that means we’ll want to feel that there is a shared view with Americans about the danger of the virus as well as around the actions to be taken to combat it.

That is currently not the case. An Angus Reid Institute survey released today shows that two in five Americans (42 per cent) say the risk of the coronavirus is overblown; just one quarter of Canadians (26 per cent) feel the same way.

As of the end of October, COVID-19 had killed over 235,000 Americans and over 10,000 Canadians, with nearly ten million confirmed cases of the virus south of the border and just under 250,000 in our country.

In my home province of Quebec, COVID-19 meant there were more deaths than births for the second quarter of 2020 (April to June) -- and the ratio outstripped any single quarter since comparable record-keeping began in 1971.

This is, of course, not to mention the potential long-term health effects of those who contract COVID-19, which health authorities are beginning to document.

Yet there remain far too many people in both countries who believe that the effects of COVID-19 are being exaggerated. To a significant degree, such views are influenced by ‘leaders’ who put politics before the health of citizens and defy, if not outright denigrate calls for social distancing and mask wearing, two very key measures to help fight the contagion.

An important majority of Canadians take the virus very seriously and it is not surprising, therefore, that in the aftermath of his contracting COVID-19, as many as three in four of us describe the behaviour of Donald Trump as very reckless and a danger to others.

Optimally, Americans and Canadians should work together closely to combat the contagion. As we go forward, such cooperation will become increasingly important between our two countries. But that will require some shift in the extent to which many of our neighbours and many of us in Canada take the matter seriously.

To do so, the message from America’s current president with regard to COVID-19 must change. And as this is very unlikely to occur, we can only hope that Americans opt for change on November 3. 

And, yes, while it is a decision for Americans to make, you’ll have to forgive me if I share my opinion with friends and family members south of the border, many of whom I hope to be able to actually visit in the not-too-distant future.

Jack Jedwab is the president of the organiation Association for Canadian Studies.

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