Last week, Spencer Chandra Herbert the Opposition Critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts was in the area visiting with stakeholders from the tourism, arts and heritage sectors. It was great to have Spencer in my constituency, meeting with constituents about these important issues.
During Spencer’s time here, we met with representatives of Kootenay Rockies Tourism, the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, Golden Tourism and the North Columbia Artists’ Co-operative, to name just a few. We toured Fort Steele Heritage Town, the Golden and District Museum, Revelstoke Museum and Archives, and the Nickelodeon Museum in Revelstoke. We also had the privilege of meeting with the cast of Selkirk Secondary School’s production of Grease.
When Spencer asked tourism operators what government could do to improve the climate for their industry, two main issues were raised.
The first issue is the implementation of the HST. Tourism operators and restaurant owners will be heavily impacted by the HST. Most tourism businesses in this area rely on international customers who can choose to travel anywhere in the world, or on customers from Alberta who can choose to vacation in their own province where there is a much lower tax rate. HST makes our tourism products less competitive.
The second issue is the dismantling of Tourism BC, the award-winning organization that was responsible for marketing British Columbia to the world. Tourism BC has integrated into the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, transferring responsibility for marketing decisions away from experts in the industry and placing it into the hands of politicians.
When Spencer asked arts and culture organizations what government could do to support their activities in their communities the primary concern raised was the loss of funding through gaming grants. This money which once provided core funding for arts councils, museums, and theatre groups has been withdrawn by the BC Liberal government, and these non-profit, volunteer-driven societies are suffering as a result.
It is not an easy time for any of these sectors, but despite the challenges the constituents we met with remain positive overall. The common theme that was brought to the table was that it is time for the tourism industry and the arts and culture sector to work together. Cultural tourism is the next step in promoting our communities and supporting our cultural assets.
Marketing not only recreational activities and tourist facilities but also cultural events, museums and galleries to tourists could be a real boost to both sectors.
I support these efforts toward co-operation, and I know that Spencer as the critic for Tourism, Culture and the Arts will be encouraging the Minister to assist tourism marketing organizations and community arts and culture groups to develop a strategy to make this plan a reality.
Norm Macdonald is the New Democratic MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke. His website is located at www.normmacdonald.ca.