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Positive Poilievre polling leads to talk of easing border restrictions: Tories

The government was motivated to reconsider COVID-19 restrictions at Canada's border because of the growing popularity of new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, MPs from his caucus
Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. Conservative members of Parliament say the Liberals are playing politics with COVID-19 border restrictions, and talk of scrapping those restrictions may have something to do with the new Conservative leader.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The government was motivated to reconsider COVID-19 restrictions at Canada's border because of the growing popularity of new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, MPs from his caucus said Wednesday.

Several Liberal ministers confirmed they were discussing whether to continue the mandatory use of the ArriveCan app for international travellers and COVID-19 border restrictions like face masks which are set to expire on Sept. 30.

The cabinet has not made any final decisions but is set to meet Thursday afternoon after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returns from the U.N. General Assembly.

"I can’t share any cabinet confidences or what’s taking place right now, but we’re going to continue to follow the science," said Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault. "We’re going to continue to make sure that as we open up the economy we do so in a systematic and respectful way."

Current border restrictions mean most foreign nationals are not allowed to travel to Canada unless they have completed a primary series of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, unless they qualify for an exception. For most vaccines that means at least two doses.

Unvaccinated foreigners who fall into specific categories, such as temporary foreign workers, health care workers, or crew on airlines or ships, are subject to mandatory arrival tests and a 14-day quarantine.

Vaccinated travellers, including Canadians, may also be selected for mandatory random testing — a system that public health officials have used as an "early warning system" for new variants of the virus entering the country.

Several Conservative MPs welcomed the possibility of ending COVID-19 restrictions for travellers Wednesday, but said they don't understand what has triggered these discussions — aside from changing political tides.

"I think it might have something to do with the science changing Saturday night when Pierre (Poilievre) was coronated," quipped Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu on her way into a Conservative caucus meeting.

Poilievre is a staunch opponent of vaccine mandates, and his position on COVID-19 restrictions was a popular element of his leadership campaign.

Saskatoon—Grasswood MP Kevin Waugh said the possible change could have something to do latest poll figures.

"Finally they have woken up, because we have a new leader and the polls are not favourable for the Liberals," Waugh said. "I mean, they're in trouble."

Boissonnault rejected the Conservative's suggestions outright.

"The measures that we put in place during COVID have nothing to do with the Conservative Party and leadership at that time, and nothing that they’re doing on their side affects how we’re governing, or the steps we’re taking to keep Canadians safe," he said on his way into the Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday.

"As Minister of Tourism, I want to see as many people come here as safely as possible and so we’re going to continue to discuss this inside government.'

Federal ministers won't say what recommendations they plan to bring to their cabinet meeting, but assured their decisions will be directed by science rather than politics.

"As everyone knows, these measures are always being reviewed on the basis of the evidence, prudence and the epidemiology," Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday.

Conservatives have criticized the government for the lack of transparency about the evidence used to inform COVID-19 public health decisions.

A case study by international research group Pandemics and Borders published in April highlighted similar concerns.

"Claims about the use of scientific evidence to guide decisions have been extensively made but with limited disclosure of what constitutes that scientific evidence," the researchers concluded after examining Canada's pandemic border policies.

"The reliance on science-driven narratives, in this context, increased politicization in ways that ultimately undermined the use of science."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2022.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press