As Canada hits a logistics snag with COVID-19 vaccine supply, Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison says he is continuing to push for a rapid testing regime at the international border and airports.
The federal government recently implemented further travel-related restrictions, requiring travellers to reserve a room in a government-approved hotel room for three days while awaiting a COVID-19 molecular test result, both at their own cost, as well as conducting a 14-day quarantine afterwards.
Morrison cited the case of a young man in Alberta who was whisked away by officials to a hotel for quarantine after arriving in Calgary from the United States on a flight, despite his mother being on hand to take him home.
“I think we just need to get back into some common sense here,” Morrison said.
As part of updated travel restrictions, four major Canadian airlines have voluntarily suspended flights to sun destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30.
“We’re stuck in this travel ban situation because we haven’t had the opportunity or the government has not opened the door to having these rapid tests out so we can get people in and out,” said Morrison.
“If someone tests negative, why would you 14-day quarantine? Yet, we’re still in this quarantine process because we haven’t rolled out these tools in our toolbox.”
Morrison also said it was “odd” that Canadian airlines are voluntarily suspending flights to sun destinations, while American air carriers are still able to operate at Canadian airports and fly travellers to those same destinations.
Despite issues with vaccine procurement and supply, Morrison says rapid testing can serve as an important tool towards easing restrictions even if vaccinating an increasingly larger percentage of the Canadian population takes more time.
“I think the rapid testing will take care of that, in that, now we’ll know if you are, in fact, positive or not,” Morrison said. “So to me, the rapid testing is the process for us to get our businesses and our tourism and get the energy sector back going again, things that are so important for Kootenay-Columbia.”
On Jan. 29, a federal minister issued a statement that Canada was only going to receive 78 per cent of the forecasted Moderna vaccine that week, as the company and other pharmaceuticals ramp up capacity to meet a huge global demand.
Seeking observer status for Columbia River Treaty talks
Morrison rose in the House of Commons last week to voice the significance of the Columbia River Treaty to the region, while also noting that he’s requested observer status in the negotiations between Canada and the United States.
The treaty, ratified in 1964, is a water management agreement between the two countries, providing flood control downstream of the Columbia River in the United States.
Under the terms of the agreement, Canada built the Mica Dam, Duncan Dam and Keenleyside Dam in British Columbia, while the Americans built the Libby Dam in Montana.
The treaty flooded over 110,000 hectares of land, displacing rural and indigenous communities, as well as impacting ecosystems and farm land.
The Ktunaxa, the Secwepemc and the Syilx-Okanagan First Nations joined the talks in 2019 as observers, participating in negotiation preparations and have made presentations during treaty discussions.
Morrison said any renegotiated terms should include compensation to those who lost their lands to flooded reservoirs, a re-introduction of salmon into the upper Columbia River, stable water levels at Lake Koocanusa and fair compensation for power generation.
His priorities also included addressing low water levels at Lake Koocansua for tourism values and summer recreation.
“Recreation, number one,” Morrison said. “Also compensation for those who lost their ranch or lands or grasslands. A lot of people have not been compensated, and I think water levels — lets just take a look at [Lake] Koocanusa. Having Koocanusa water levels to where they can actually have water by the dock instead of 40 feet away from the dock.”
Morrison said it’s been three months since he last heard an update from the federal government on the state of the talks, which is still in preliminary stages after 10 rounds of discussions.
Liberals, NDP defeat Tory firearms bill on illegal guns
A Conservative private members bill, with Bloc Quebecois support, was shot down by Liberal and NDP parliamentarians last week, legislation that would have proposed stiffer penalties for smuggling and trafficking illegal guns.
Morrison said the Tory bill would have punished possession and trafficking of illegal guns without targeting law-abiding gun owners, who are properly licensed with legal firearms.
“Of course, we know that organized crime and gangs don’t have any legal guns, because they can’t get a Possession and Acquisition license because they’re criminals …,” said Morrison. “They can’t get one, our process is so strict, they wouldn’t get one.”
The Tory proposal included mandatory minimum penalties for possession of unlawfully imported firearms.
During the debate, both Liberal and NDP members voiced their opposition to the bill by citing concerns about constitutionality of mandatory minimum penalties.
The bill was defeated in a vote of 171-150.
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