US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)

New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

The new U.S. consul general who oversees relations with British Columbia and the Yukon says he is looking forward to building closer ties that will aid economic recovery when the border with Alaska eventually reopens.

Consul General Brent Hardt, who was posted to Vancouver six months ago, said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic.

“It would be hard to think we could be working more closely (together). We have discussions at every level with every government agency, you can imagine, to try to manage it,” he said.

He said both countries are focused on keeping the coronavirus at bay while discussing what future options could be available to begin reopening the border when it is safe.

Hardt acknowledged that not all decisions on the border made by the Canadian government have been well received. In February Transport Canada announced a ban on cruise ships with more than 100 passengers in Canadian waters.

The decision was upsetting to cruise operators that travel the Alaskan coast, as it has made — under current regulations — operations impossible. The ripple effect has been felt among companies and towns on both sides of the border that rely on tourism, and prompted a strong response from Alaskan politicians.

“There are occasional issues where each side will take a step or measure that the other side may not be on and may create some problems,” Hardt said. “The recent decision on the cruise ships, obviously, has implications for Alaska, as well as British Columbia and Yukon tourism. So it’s not that it hurts only one side.”

“By and large we coordinate very closely,” he said. “I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic. Get the numbers down, prevent the spread, so that we can get back to having an open border as soon as possible, which will be in all of our interests.”

During his first days in office, the incoming President Joe Biden introduced laws that would reverse a decision made by the former president on gas and oil lease sales in ANWR.

Hardt said it will take time for the new administration to determine any changes in policy direction, but said both climate change and resource development will be important Arctic policy issues.

“We’ve had very excellent engagement with folks. We are as committed as you are, especially with a new administration, to dealing with climate change,” he said. “I think you’ll see the demonstration really putting that front and center. So that’s another area of excellent collaboration.”

Hardt said aside from business development in the territory he has also been in talks with Yukon University about forging stronger academic ties between the two countries and opportunities for collaboration around Arctic research.

A Fulbright scholarship program focused on Arctic research already exists, and Hardt said he wants to encourage exchange programs between the two countries.

“In the whole research and university realm, we think there’s a lot that we can do to tighten up that connectivity,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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