Local MP Elizabeth May is calling on the federal government to do more for the local tourism sector, warning of damage to the local economy.
Her appeal comes after the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. called on the provincial government to help out the industry with a $680 million recovery stimulus package, a figure she said the federal government should “at least match” when it comes to supporting the provincial tourism industry.
“We have such extreme needs right now,” she said. “But again, bear in mind — whatever the federal government does for B.C., you have to expand that right across Canada. But that is a reasonable figure.”
Questions about the current state and eventual fate of the local tourism industry unfold as the Canadian border remains closed to visitors from the United States, a major source of tourism revenue, and concerns about the so-called ‘Alaska loophole’ that allows citizens of United States to travel through British Columbia on the premise that they are travelling to their homes in Alaska.
May touched on this issue in her latest constituency letter for Saanich-Gulf Islands, writing “news from south of the border makes us want to seal the border ever tighter” in alluding to the escalating number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. “My constituency office is deluged with calls of concern about foreign license plates. I raised the so-called ‘Alaska loophole’ again in parliament last week. Meanwhile, our local tourism businesses – from iconic Butchart Gardens to Wilsons bus line – are wondering how they can hold on without those tourists.”
When asked about this tension, May said public health concerns take priority. “The No. 1 job is to keep us safe and we need to keep the border closed.”
But this imperative also means the federal government needs to put more money into local tourism, May said, calling the federal response insufficient for the need to keep businesses afloat until the 2021 season.
“The sector that I see in the most trouble right now and which has had the least relief is tourism,” she said.
May, however, could not say exactly when local operators can expect additional support.
She also called for additional creativity in making use of tourism assets to help operators get through 2020 into 2021. Convention centres, for examples, could be turned into classrooms and a number of wilderness tourism operators have offered their resources for non-tourism uses such as environmental clean-up, she said.
May acknowledged additional public spending might not be popular in light of the “sticker-shock” that Canadians might have suffered after the latest federal fiscal update, which forecasts a deficit of $343 billion for 2020-21 and a total federal government debt of $1.06 trillion by the end of March 2021 thanks to higher expenditures and lower tax revenues related to COVID-19.
“But we can’t stop spending the money, because what we don’t want to see is a worsening recession or even a depression, where in the summer of 2021 we suddenly realize, ‘oh, businesses went bankrupt because short-term lifelines were not entirely successful.’”
May added the appropriate time to re-open the border is “whenever Dr. Bonnie Henry says so.” This said, May’s comments describing the COVID-19 situation in the United States as “hells on wheels” does not suggest that might be anytime soon.
“We are not going to take chances with the health of Canadians. Is it harder for our economy? For sure. We are hugely dependent on the U.S. economy. It’s very bad news for Canada that the U.S. COVID crisis has been badly mismanaged … and until it is under control, we don’t open our border.”
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