Doug Ford’s demand for new pandemic travel restrictions is an attempt to deflect, says Blair

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent letter calling on the federal government to further restrict travel into and across Canada is an attempt to deflect attention away from the third pandemic wave rampaging through the province, says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

“I would encourage the premier to look at his data, listen to his health experts and let’s act on the facts. And frankly, we see an effort to deflect and distract from a very serious concern that everyone has in Ontario,” Blair told guest host David Common on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Thursday. 

“I know they’ve got some serious problems … in their workplaces and in their social gatherings but their own data tells us … they had 2,320 cases reported in Ontario yesterday. Zero of those were related to travel, so frankly I would disagree.”

The Ford government sent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau another letter this week restating requests it made in previous letters. The provincial government says it wants Ottawa to reduce the number of international flights allowed to arrive in Canada, require that Canadians take pre-departure tests before flying domestically and extend quarantine measures at Canada’s airports to the land border with the United States.

Blair dismissed the suggestion of restricting international flights further, saying all non-essential travel to Canada was halted 14 months ago. He also said international travel is down by 96 per cent and Canadians are returning home from abroad because they have a right to do so. 

As for Ford’s request that domestic travellers be required to take a polymerase chain reaction test — commonly known as a PCR test — for COVID-19 before they travel, Blair said the federal government is willing to help but internal travel restrictions are a provincial responsibility.

“If the premier wants to implement measures restricting travel into Ontario from anywhere domestically in Canada, he has the authority to do that and we’re happy to work with him,” Blair said.

Land border measures working: Blair

On Feb. 22, the federal government implemented new quarantine measures at airports requiring all air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad to isolate in a federally designated facility for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a PCR test that they must take upon arrival.

The three-day mandatory quarantine stay at a federally designated facility can cost as much as $2,000 per person. Ford said he wants those measures extended to the land border.

“There are 117 land border points across this country and many of them are hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest hotel,” said Blair. “The safest and most effective way to manage people who are arriving at our borders by land is by the system that we have put in place.”

Blair said Canadians returning by land from the U.S. while contained in their cars, with their families, and going directly home after their tests to quarantine for two weeks “is the safest way to manage those people.”

“All of the requirements of pre-arrival testing, post-arrival testing and 14 day quarantine are enforced vigorously at our land borders, and in fact we have 99.6 per cent compliance,” he said. “And when people are not compliant with that, there are substantial consequences and fines that are imposed.”