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Sea to Sky candidates lay out plans for tourism, business recovery

Economic recovery front and centre in Oct. 24 election campaigns
Liberal Jordan Sturdy, NDP Keith Murdoch and Jeremy Valeriote, of the BC Green Party. PHOTO COMPOSITE BY KARL PARTINGTON

When it comes to supporting tourism, all three candidates vying for the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA seat acknowledge how intertwined the issue is with other problems like housing, cost-of-living, and labour shortages in Whistler. 

“We all know tourism has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, especially in the Sea to Sky,” said Keith Murdoch, NDP candidate. “The NDP is doing a lot to try and promote the tourism industry. We’ve made a $100-million investment in tourism in our economic recovery plan and I’m expecting a good chunk to be invested in Whistler and across the corridor. We all know how big tourism is here.” 

The NDP has also said it would provide funding for a new tourism taskforce, and offer local governments, First Nations and non-profits grants to build tourism infrastructure. 

For Murdoch, the key is listening to what small tourism business owners want, he said. “I want to see our tourism recovery plan be driven from the ground up,” he said. “The best ideas will come from the people directly experiencing the challenges.” 

The Green Party, meanwhile, has said it would allocate $300 million for a six-month rent subsidy program to help small businesses. More directly related to tourism, the party is proposing to retool a provincial grant program to focus more directly on supporting tourism operators and speed up the time it takes to get grant money flowing. 

“I think we need to be able to be adaptable to regional versus international visitors, depending on what happens with the pandemic,” said local Green Party candidate Jeremy Valeriote. “A lot of the recovery is about being set up to be resilient and adaptive to weather the storms. There’s a role to play for government spending, off the top acknowledging that small businesses are core to our community.” 

He also pointed to the federal government’s recent announcement that the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy would cover up to 65 per cent of rent and another 25 per cent for businesses that are closed due to a mandatory health order. As well, he said, the federal government expanded the Canada Emergency Business Account by an extra $20,000.

“All this is to say that the provincial government’s response of promoting tourism recovery has been lacklustre, and suggest weak local representation,” he said in a follow-up email. “The tourism task force that will produce a report at the end of December doesn’t have a representative from the Sea to Sky, a major oversight, considering our place in the tourism sector in B.C. And local officials are frustrated that most assistance has gone to the Destination Marketing Organizations instead of actual business. The B.C. Greens understand the importance of tourism and small business in the new green economy, and the stress of local friends and family who don’t know if they’ll have a job in tourism this winter.” 

For its part, the Liberal Party said its plan is to offer bridge financing and loan guarantees to tourism-industry operators. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has also said he would eliminate the two-per-cent small business income tax. 

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but two per cent in a skinny year can be everything,” said local incumbent, Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy. “We’re also proposing—there are over 19,000 tourism and hospitality businesses in B.C.—loan guarantees so they have access to capital. That’s often one of the challenges.” 

Another challenge in the Sea to Sky when it comes to tourism is navigating the short term during the pandemic while keeping an eye on the longer term when the area returns to grappling with overtourism. 

“The potential for overtourism remains,” he said. “I am confident we will get past COVID, but it will take a year or two do that—then even longer, perhaps, to see international tourism pick up again. So, now is the time to be focusing on what our capacity is in the region as a whole … If we don’t have the investments we need, and an understanding of what capacities are, we put that [tourist] experience at risk.” 

Meanwhile, Sturdy also believes the federal government plays an important role during the pandemic in helping small businesses. “[The provincial Liberals] would be working hand in glove with [the federal government] for short-term rent relief for commercial tenants. How that will work, it will have to dovetail with the federal government.”   

The provincial election is Oct. 24.