New government, new priorities? 

  • Photo courtesy of the Province of B.C.

B.C has a new government in place and while it is early days yet for communities closely tied to tourism to see what this might mean, it's clear that change is in the air.

The new NDP government, the first since 2001, may already be signalling a shift in its focus on the sector by placing it in a ministry partnered with arts and culture under Minister Lisa Beare (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows).

Under the former Liberal government, tourism was part of the jobs, skills training and labour ministry — a fitting place when you think about the fact that the sector supports nearly 19,000 tourism-related businesses, 92 per cent of which are small businesses, and employs 127,700 people at last count — a 16 per cent increase since 2005.

Tourism contributed $7.1 billion in GDP in 2014 to the provincial economy, for 4.5 per cent growth over 2013. Tourism GDP grew more rapidly than that of the whole B.C. economy, which grew 2.8 per cent in 2014. The most current statistics (2015) show that tourism contributed more to GDP than any other primary resource industry, including oil and gas extraction ($7.2B), mining ($3.8B), forestry and logging ($1.9B), and agriculture and fish ($1.5B).

It's easy to just skim past these numbers when reading — but one shouldn't. They are significant indicators of a sector in full throttle helping to drive a strong B.C. economy and it would be a mistake to take the success of tourism for granted, or fail to curate it in the coming years.

Let's also bear in mind that our small corner of the tourism world in B.C. is packing a huge punch, adding in excess of $1.37 million a day in taxes to the coffers of the provincial, federal and municipal governments.

Said another way — we are contributing about 25 per cent of the provincial tourism export economy.

I'm sure Ms. Beare already knows this and it will be interesting to learn her position on the value of tourism to the provincial economy, and whether the NDP government will continue to support the provincial Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding. You may recall that this annual funding, capped at $10.5 million, has helped support 14 B.C. resorts for the last several years as part of the push to grow tourism. In total, Whistler has received $74,218,753 since 2006.

Are we ready to do without this provincial injection of funds?

Given the amount of tax revenue Whistler generates to all levels of government, it would be short sighted to cut RMI funding to Whistler, but at this point, there is no clear indication of what the NDP plans to do.

Several other issues that have been tabled as priorities for the NDP government and its Green Party partner might affect Whistler as well.

For example, there is the issue of a minimum wage. The NDP has been advocating for an increase to $15 an hour by the end of its first term, while the Green Party wanted the issue to be dealt with through the establishment of a basic income.

In their governing agreement, they have agreed to the formation of a Fair Wages Commission to investigate the way forward. It will be "tasked with establishing a pathway to a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour and overseeing regular rate reviews."

According to a May 2016 government release, changes to the minimum wage would affect some 93,700 British Columbians, 43 per cent of whom are over the age of 24.

There is little doubt that Whistler contains lots of minimum-wage workers who will welcome this increase. But small businesses must also be supported by a gradual implementation so that operations adjustments can be made to keep service levels intact. It's a position shared by the BC Chamber of Commerce.

Said Dan Baxter, director of policy development for the organization: "It's not so much the number that is the concern — business owners across British Columbia have never had a problem with the minimum wage going up — it's just making sure that it's done in a certain, predictable way and not increasing too fast."

Climate change is also on the agenda. The NDP and Greens plan to implement a carbon-tax increase of $5 a tonne per year, beginning April 1, 2018.

For now it's a wait-and-see scenario. As the NDP and Green Party alliance works out the way forward — let's hope that keeping a strong tourism sector remains a key goal of this next provincial government.


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