OKEECHOBEE — Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has announced that the border between the United States and Canada would remain closed until at least Nov. 21. But there is some expectation that it may continue to remain closed until the middle of next year.
In an interview with Vermont Public Radio, Jeffrey Ayres, a professor at St. Michael’s College who focuses on North American and Canadian politics, said that there are estimates the border could remain closed until summer 2021.
“There’s no way Canadians are going to open the border to the United States without some sort of collaborative agreement with the U.S. and some sort of sense of confidence that we’ve really gotten the pandemic under control, which we clearly haven’t,” Ayres said to VPR’s Henry Epp.
The ban has already affected many of the seasonal visitors Okeechobee receives from Canada, especially in places like Heritage Village in Okeechobee which for half the year is home to a large contingent of French Canadians.
Canadians aren’t allowed to cross the border in their personal vehicles on non-essential travel. That means the 200 Canadians who come to Heritage Village in their recreational vehicles aren’t able to travel to Okeechobee this year and instead will be spending the winter in Quebec. Many of those who come to Heritage Village live in their RVs full-time, even while in Quebec. Many of those RVs aren’t equipped to handle the harsh Canadian winter, which forced many to scramble to find a short-term living solution for the next few months.
Though many in Okeechobee will be pleased at the prospect of a little less traffic this winter, that loss will inevitably lead to a hit to the local economy. Many of the so called “snowbirds” usually eat at local restaurants and shop at local stores, especially the Winn-Dixie located directly in front of Heritage Village.
According to a report prepared by the Canadian government called the 2018 Canada-Florida Economic Impact Study, Canadians may be the single largest contributors to Florida’s tourism sector from out-of-state visitors.
The report estimated that Canadian travelers to Florida spent upwards of $6.5 billion (U.S.) in 2016. Of that $6 billion, the report estimates that Canadian tourism to Florida contributed $686.56 million in tax revenue to the state in 2016 alone.