N.B. border towns have mixed feelings about possible reopening to Maine in July

·3 min read
Many residents in St. Stephen have family members minutes away in Calais, Maine.  (CBC/Connell Smith - image credit)
Many residents in St. Stephen have family members minutes away in Calais, Maine. (CBC/Connell Smith - image credit)

Reaction is mixed along the border to the prospect of a New Brunswick reopening with Maine as early as July.

New Brunswick announced its "path to green" on Thursday, laying out a three-phase reopening plan that would see all restrictions lifted as early as Aug. 2, provided vaccination rate goals are met and COVID-related hospitalizations remain low.

For people who have been waiting for the province to reopen to its U.S. neighbour, Premier Blaine Higgs said that could come even sooner, maybe July.

Some like the idea. Others aren't so sure.

"We wouldn't be upset, I think, if the border didn't open until the fall," said Arthur Slipp, Woodstock's mayor.

When the province outlined the reopening phases, it originally said travellers from Maine with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination would be allowed in New Brunswick without having to isolate starting July 1.

But that plan hit a bump later that night when Higgs spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers.

Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp said he would be OK with keeping the U.S. border closed until the fall.
Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp said he would be OK with keeping the U.S. border closed until the fall. (Sarah Morin/CBC)

The Canada-U.S. border is a federal jurisdiction and probably won't reopen in time, Higgs told reporters on Friday, adding that he believes later in July is still possible.

But even that is still too soon, Slipp says.

Slipp said his town has fared well against COVID-19 for much of the pandemic and doesn't want to risk changing that by opening the U.S. border too early.

"We've been very fortunate that we've not had a serious outbreak which has, I guess, caused a number of citizens to become ill," he said. "So, we've escaped COVID pretty much in terms of sickness and hospitalization."

St. Stephen

In the southern part of the province, people in St. Stephen are mixed about a July reopening with Maine, according to Mayor Allan MacEachern.

He said there are people who have family members minutes down the road in Calais who have been separated for the duration of the pandemic. They are ready to see the border reopen.

"Moms and dads, and brothers and sisters literally across that river to us — like they are right there, you can look across and see them."

But there are also people in the community who want to wait to make sure the COVID-19 situation is well under control before opening to the U.S., MacEachern said.

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said people in the town are divided about possibly reopening with Maine as early as July.
St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said people in the town are divided about possibly reopening with Maine as early as July. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

"It's very divided on that," he said. "It's a very sensitive topic."

MacEachern isn't convinced that the border will be ready to reopen in July, and thinks the province is trying to generate some excitement to help encourage the federal government to reopen the border.

"It would be nice, but there are so many things … in play here," he said.

Edmundston

In the northern New Brunswick, Eric Marquis, the mayor of Edmundston, said his city is ready to embrace a potential U.S. border reopening as soon as possible.

"The impact has been felt from different angles," Marquis said.

Some Edmundston residents have been separated from families that live minutes across the border in Madawaska.

Marquis said it's going to be very emotional when the border opens and family members can connect again.

Newly elected Edmundston Mayor Eric Marquis said people in the city are happy to hear the borders could soon reopen.
Newly elected Edmundston Mayor Eric Marquis said people in the city are happy to hear the borders could soon reopen. (Gary Moore/CBC News)

"FaceTime is something, but being in person and speaking with people and having them right beside you," he said.

Marquis said it will be good for the economy once the U.S. border reopens, noting that most people from Madawaska shop in Edmundston.

None of the mayors have had talks with the province yet about the potential July reopening date.

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