Ditch the app: Border MPs and mayors urge Ottawa to scrap ArriveCAN at land crossings, saying it threatens recovery

OTTAWA — Mayors and MPs along the Canada-U.S. border are urging the federal government to abandon the use of the ArriveCAN app at land crossings, viewing the tool as unnecessary, inaccessible and harmful to economic recovery in communities border.

All travelers entering Canada by land, air or sea must use the app, with some exceptions. People must enter their travel information, vaccination status – and, if not vaccinated, an appropriate quarantine plan – within 72 hours of entering the country.

But politicians say they are getting a listening ear from people who don’t own smartphones, from those who were turned away from the border for not filling out the application correctly, and from American voters and tourists who were even unaware of the existence of ArriveCAN.

In some cases, it has contributed to hours-long delays for drivers trying to get back into the country, MPs and mayors say, and discourages travel at a time when communities are banking on summer tourism for an injection of water. essential money.

“Niagara Falls is the number one destination for leisure tourism in all of Canada,” Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli, who represents the region, told The Star. “We have lost two tourist years… We have to save the 2022 tourist season and ArriveCAN threatens to deprive us of this recovery capacity.

There are four border crossings in Baldinelli’s riding, including the Rainbow International Bridge, which the MP said posted wait times of two and a half hours over Memorial Day weekend in May. The timing is worrying, he said, because Niagara generates 75% of its revenue during the summer months.

“What we need to do is ensure that our tourism community is… put in a position to do what they do best, which is to welcome people from all over the world. ArriveCAN is a deterrent and an obstacle to facilitating cross-border traffic,” he said.

NDP MP Richard Cannings, who owns six border crossings in his B.C. riding, said he’s also heard from seniors who don’t have phones or aren’t familiar with apps and have met problems when trying to cross.

“We’re asking for a real plan that makes sense for Canadians and for travelers so that our border towns … can safely restart their businesses,” he told reporters Wednesday morning.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra criticized the app on Tuesday, when Ottawa decided to suspend vaccination mandates for federal workers and passengers on planes and trains in Canada. ArriveCAN has also been reported by airline groups as contributing to hold-ups at major airports across the country.

“We are working with the Canada Border Services Agency, with the Public Health Agency of Canada to make sure that we increase awareness of ArriveCAN, that we increase compliance with ArriveCAN, that we reduce the number of questions asked to streamline,” says Alghabra.

“We are working on efficiencies to make ArriveCAN less of a source of complaints; however, it continues to be a useful tool for checking the vaccination status of travelers arriving at our borders.

People with specific accessibility needs are exempt from using the app, and those without a smartphone are encouraged to complete the necessary forms using the desktop version of the app.

The scientific and epidemiological situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic now suggests there is no longer a need to keep the app running, says Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati.

Diodati took aim at Ottawa for allocating $25 million in its 2022-23 federal budget to maintain ArriveCAN.

“Please take this money and give it to us to help us market the reopening of the border,” he said.

“Because what’s going on right now?” The Americans show up in their minivan with their family at the border. No knowledge of the ArriveCAN app. They don’t have roaming. They can’t download the app. There are many lines of cars behind them. They cannot enter the country.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said compliance with the app was over 90% and it was making travel “more efficient”.

But the federal government’s focus on solving travel problems plaguing air travel indicates Ottawa is leaving border towns behind, said Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley.

“During the 22 months of border issues, we supported the federal government. We met them regularly by Zoom with them. And now we’re just on the back burner,” he said. “It’s like a boa constrictor in our communities…and now we can’t even get them to meet the needs we have.”

He said the situation facing tourism-dependent border communities as travel rules come and go was tantamount to a “Monty Python sketch”.

“Did they actually look at the results of the benefits (of the app)?” Bradley asked.

“I’ve been in politics for a long time, and when you get on a dead horse, get off. This is what the federal government must do.

PR

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

Lance B. Holton