Border success cannot be allowed to breed failure

The Canada-United States border is a quiet success story hidden behind all the awfulness that has come out of COVID-19.

Despite the worst pandemic in a century and despite a U.S. president that is given to playing hardball with foreign neighbours, trade has kept flowing across the Canada-U.S. border, helping keep us all fed, many of us employed, and the continental economy alive.

I wrote a small story about it a few weeks ago. But unless you read that, you probably haven’t seen much about this because to most of us, good news ain’t news.

It’s similar to the amazing success story of most North American slaughter plants recovering from COVID-19 shutdowns to get back to business.

It’s news when it’s a crisis. It’s not news when things are under control.

But we need to keep our eye on these things. We’re far from done with COVID-19, and it’s far from done with us.

We need to ensure that we’re not taking successes and using them to plant future failures.

The border is a key success. Not only has it allowed agricultural trade to continue, but it has kept out the virus, which is still widespread in the U.S. and not necessarily even flattening as it seeps into new regions.

I can’t see any reason to quickly re-open the border to non-commercial traffic any time soon. I didn’t really think anybody would be considering this, but I’ve heard a few voices calling for the border to be loosened sooner rather than later, so it seems like it might be becoming a thinkable idea.

The best argument I’ve read about this is from John Ibbitson in The Globe and Mail, who on June 4 wrote:

“Canada is a country of immigrants, a free-trading country, a country open to the world. Remaining open, despite the threat of COVID-19, comes with risks, but closing ourselves off would be worse. We need to reopen the border with the U.S. as soon and as completely as we can.”

Ibbitson cites the challenges of businesspeople trying to get business done without face-to-face meetings, the reality that COVID-19 will be a continuing situation for a long time, and the desperate situation of refugees and immigrants blocked off from Canada now.

As challenging as those situations are, and much as I usually agree with what Ibbitson says, moving quickly to re-open the border seems crazy to me. The greatest achievements of our response to COVID-19 have been self-discipline and adaptability. We’ve controlled ourselves and we’ve adapted.

My kids have learned how to do school, dance classes and Girl Guides online and through apps like Zoom. I’m pretty sure most businesses can do likewise until we see whether a big second wave of the pandemic is building.

The rural Prairies have been blessed with relatively low rates of virus and a quick recovery from the first wave. Will that continue to be the situation if thousands of Canadians and Americans begin jumping back and forth across the border, with some U.S. states not having the pandemic crushed yet?

It’s tempting after these months of lockdowns and privation to want to return to normal as soon as possible. But self-discipline has seen us through to this point and we might need to keep much of that discipline for a few more months.

Our successes in the recent past will be failures of the future if they cause us to lose our grip on what we can control today.

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