OTTAWA — Manitoba tourism operators are demanding clear benchmarks from Ottawa and the province on when border restrictions will be lifted.
"Let's have a target, because what's been happening, month by month (COVID-19 pandemic restrictions) is just killing businesses," said D.J. Seals, head of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association.
"We need a decision from the federal government, saying here’s what it’s going to look like. Is it 70 per cent fully vaccinated? There is no kind of plan, and that's the most difficult part."
On Tuesday, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada called on Ottawa to give targets such as COVID-19 vaccination rates and/or case counts in order to gradually allow some Americans to enter Canada.
"There is a lack of urgency on the Canadian side for planning for the inevitable reopening of the border, which has been out-of-step with U.S. officials and the (President Joe) Biden administration," wrote the group's head, Beth Potter.
In Manitoba, the worry is restrictions will be lifted without enough warning for tour operators to prepared.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery says benchmarks would help it plan for people visiting the gallery exhibits — and holding a series of events relating to the Arctic and Inuit arts.
"People in museums already tend to distance from each other," WAG director Stephen Borys said with a laugh.
He said the museum is large and can space people apart, but wants to ensure it gets programming underway to welcome visitors from other provinces and the United States.
The new Inuit centre is also supposed to host a series of international meetings, but it's unclear when Canada will be welcoming foreigners.
"Qaumajuq had become a player in conversations we never were a part of before," he said.
"We are playing a bigger role in international and national meetings and discussion groups, whether it's regarding sovereignty, sustainability or Arctic resources."
In Churchill, operators have been asking since March for clarity from Ottawa and the province on the year ahead.
"Consumers need a roadmap; they need to see what steps lie ahead," said John Gunter, head of Frontiers North Adventures.
In Churchill, 76 per cent of the eligible population has received at least one COVID-19 dose, and the local health centre predicts it will get 60 per cent of eligible locals a second dose by June 17.
Yet, the town (some 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg) is expensive to reach, and tourists need to book spots on boat tours or tundra-buggy trips, many of which are suspended, Gunter said.
"We need about a two-month lead time from when it’s open to travel, and when guests arrive," Gunter said.
He said federal subsidies have helped his business keep its payroll, and plan for guests despite changes such as COVID-19 tests.
Gunter added federal supports will need to be in place for tourist operators until they start to see profits. He is currently booking trips for 2022 and 2023, charging deposits of $750 for trips costing $5,000 to $8,000.
"We’re lobbying hard for federal wage subsidies until we can start realizing revenue."
Seals said the outfitting sector also needs more notice, as it can't turn on a time.
His industry relies on American tourists who often fly to remote communities for fishing, or drive to northern Manitoba for the bear hunt. The lodges have no clue if they should start chartering planes for a summer fishing season, or whether they should be buying food and supplies for a fall bear hunt.
It's also making it unclear how to manage wildlife, with anecdotal reports of more bears roaming onto farms, though the province is still gathering data.
"There’s kind of a balance thats being knocked off-kilter," said Seales, who operates a lodge in the Whiteshell area.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave no details on when borders will be reopened, but said it "will be based on the fact that when people have both doses of the vaccine, they are more highly protected and less at risk of transmitting COVID-19."
Meanwhile, Premier Brian Pallister announced fully immunized Manitobans — who have had their second COVID-19 vaccine dose two weeks prior — would no longer have to quarantine when returning from another Canadian province.
When asked, Pallister did not say whether other Canadians who are fully vaccinated would be able to enter Manitoba without needing to do two weeks of self-isolation.
Loren Remillard, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president, said more information from the province would help build trust with the public, that lifting the restrictions is based in science.
"Any decision around the border should and will be based on science and the data, so all Canadians, Americans and people travelling across the border can do so with confidence," he said.
Remillard said a roadmap with benchmarks are essential for Manitoba businesses to start planning events, festivals, gatherings and conventions. And airlines cannot bring back routes without some notice on when demand will likely resume.
"We can open the border, but we still need to make sure we're creating the environment that allows us to build the attraction for people to cross the border to come and experience."
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"