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Conservatives failing tourism

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• When the Conservatives first came to power in 2006, Canada was close to getting Approved Destination Status from China. But it wasn't until December 2009, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally turned his attention to China, that Approved Destination Status was granted;

• A decade ago, the Canadian Tourism Commission's budget was more than $100 million. In 2012 it was $72 million and for 2013-14 it's $57.8 million. Last year, to meet the ever-shrinking budget, the CTC abandoned the U.S. market entirely. The chamber says national marketing campaigns are critical. "A lack of investment in national-level marketing cannot be replaced by local/provincial or private marketing initiatives."

• The Conservatives have done precious little to increase or encourage air travel, particularly around the Pacific Rim.

Last week the Conservatives introduced further "improvements" to the temporary foreign worker program that many ski resorts, including Whistler, rely on for filling some of their seasonal staff positions. Jason Kenney, the minister of Employment and Social Development, told CBC Vancouver the temporary foreign worker program wasn't being abused by employers, but they were making it more onerous and more expensive for employers to hire foreign workers anyway.

In a press release announcing changes to the program, Kenney spewed the usual Conservative boilerplate: "Our government's No. 1 priority remains jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity."

But the Conservatives' fix for the non-problem of foreign workers was to increase costs to businesses. This sort of Orwellian gap between rhetoric and reality has been demonstrated over and over again. Take airports, for example.

The chamber cites a World Economic Forum study that found Canada ranked first for airport infrastructure but 124th (out of 140 countries) for overall price competitiveness, and 136th for ticket taxes and airport charges. "An outdated aviation policy that creates competitive barriers and an underfunded marketing strategy are preventing us from converting potential tourists to consumers," the chamber report states.

To be clear, not all the taxes and charges levied at airports end up in federal coffers. But the federal government sets the parameters for how airports conduct their business, leasing land to airport authorities rather than selling it to them and regulating airport operations, including negotiating (or not) air access agreements with foreign nations.

Regardless of who collects the charges and fees, they have become so high that many people now choose to fly in and out of U.S. airports rather than Canadian airports. The chamber estimates "...this cross-border leakage represents a loss of approximately 9,000 well-paying jobs in Canada, employment income loss of $511 million and tax revenue loss of $190 million."

You would think that would get the attention of a government whose No. 1 priority is jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity.

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