Earlier this year the federal and Ontario governments came to the aid of the auto industry with $4 billion in loans to General Motors and Chrysler, two-thirds from Ottawa and one-third from Ontario. The auto industry, it was argued, was vital to the Canadian economy and these companies were too big to fail.
And that may well be the case. The value of Canadian vehicles and parts totaled $26.2 billion at the end of 2006, or 2.2 per cent of overall gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Financial Post. Of course, the Canadian auto industry has shrunk dramatically since 2006 and, according to the Post's Nov. 19, 2008 story, now totals about two per cent of GDP.
In May the Canadian Tourism Commission issued its annual report. The report states: "Over the last five years the Canadian tourism sector outperformed the overall Canadian economy. In fact tourism activity in Canada represents two per cent of Canada's overall GDP.... In 2008, tourism's contribution to Canadian GDP reached $30.7 billion, up 7.3 per cent over 2007. "
But tourism is still the Rodney Dangerfield of industries in Canada. Governments of all stripes announce their support for tourism, throw money at specific high profile tourism operations, and then take actions (or don't take actions) that directly impede the overall tourism industry. The provincial government's harmonized sales tax we'll save for next week. For now, let's look at what the federal government has done to take advantage of the biggest marketing event for Canadian tourism in decades, the 2010 Olympics.
Last month, visa requirements were imposed on Mexican and Czech tourists coming to Canada, because the Canadian refugee system is too inefficient to handle the bogus claims that were coming from Mexicans and Czechs. Rather than fix the refugee system the easy solution was to make it more difficult for people to come to Canada.
In 2007 the Conservatives cancelled the GST visitor rebate program.
A few years ago Canada was close to obtaining Approved Destination Status with China, which would have meant Chinese tour groups could travel freely to Canada. But under Stephen Harper's government China has been snubbed, repeatedly. Any sort of tourism agreement between China and Canada is now years away.
While Statistics Canada reported in June that the number of day trips Americans have taken to Canada had declined by almost 70 per cent since 2001, little has been done to make border crossings more efficient. Perrin Beatty, a former Conservative cabinet minister and now the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, predicted that the border congestion of 2006 and 2007 would return quickly as the economy recovers because not enough has been done to cut red tape and tie-ups.