Crossing the divide 

Japanese government representatives visit Sea to Sky communities

Squamish and Whistler hosted a number of high profile Canadian and Japanese political figures last week in an effort to promote business, investment, tourism, and educational interests between the two countries.

Six Canadian Members of Parliament (MP), a Canadian Senator, the Japanese Ambassador to Canada and four members of the Japanese legislature (Diet) along with staff toured Squamish and Whistler Jan. 5-7 in a diplomatic showing of good will organized by West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston. Though Weston was unable to attend due to prior commitments in Taiwan, a number of local representatives were on hand to help showcase sporting venues, schools, accommodations and restaurants in Whistler and Squamish.

"What they seemed to be trying to achieve was a fact-finding, relationship-building tour," said Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) Councillor Ted Milner, who attended the Whistler portion of the tour.

"They were interested in how we do business here.

"They said that Japanese young people aren't skiing so much anymore and that a lot of the travellers are older - 40, 50, 60 and so on and they are going to places like Banff, Toronto and Quebec City so they wanted to know what we were doing to try to entice them to come here. So we talked about our new initiatives on cultural tourism and place-based tourism and our event strategy and they seemed to like it."

Whistler Film Festival executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher and Whistler Blackcomb President and CFO Dave Brownlie presented on their various programs and initiatives before the group was treated to a private champagne sabreing demonstration in the wine cellar of the Bearfoot Bistro. The delegates were put up at the Four Seasons Hotel courtesy of the Canadian government.

The three-day circuit included a luncheon at Quest University in Squamish, where the Japanese Diet met with school officials to discuss the potential of exchange between the two country's universities.

"Promoting education in Canada is one way our government can attract a variety of investment, including the tuition paid to our educational institutions," said Weston in an interview from Taiwan. "The things that have arisen from this delegation in the preceding Chinese delegation of the national people's congress in October is a reiteration of what we knew - that we have to be engaged with the Pacific Rim in a meaningful way to take advantage of business investment, tourism, and student exchange."

While Quest currently has no Japanese exchange students on its registrar's list, school president David Helfand said that related discussions are underway with three Japanese universities.

Language barriers are the biggest detriment facing non-English speaking students looking to enroll in Quest as the private university doesn't offer English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and expects its students to be able to read and write at a high level of English.

"Coming here was largely a consequence of us being a convenient distance between Vancouver airport and Whistler to stop for lunch, but it's nice because it gives both the MPs from Ottawa and the visiting delegation an introduction to the Sea to Sky corridor and what we are doing here at Quest," said Helfand.

"It was just a way to introduce them to the culture of this area. It was useful getting time to speak to them to have a relationship of some kind."

The Canada-Japan Inter-Parliamentary Group has met 17 times to promote business and trade between the two countries. Its purpose is in line with a group visit from China's National People's Congress three months ago, also focused on improving trade among the Pacific Rim countries.

Whistler's Patrick McCurdy represented MP Weston in Whistler and said the business landscape in the corridor will benefit from the tour.

"My overall view is that this established new relationships that will last a long time," said McCurdy.

"I think they took away, from the whole Sea to Sky corridor and particularly Whistler, the spectacular nature of our setting and the very professional way in which we run," he said. "Some of the people came to me afterwards and said they were very impressed with how the presentation had flowed. I think we really had a successful gathering of people here."

The three days wrapped up with the signing of a document that addressed an understanding that Canada and Japan would pursue discussions around the establishment of a free trade agreement.




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