Opinion » Editorial

NDP needs to commit to tourism



The results of two by-elections today (April 19), in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope, will bring out the pundits and ramp up political debate. The two ridings are traditionally safe Liberal seats but it will be a surprise if the Liberals win either of them.

Indeed, in boardrooms across the province right now many business leaders are preparing for the day when — not if — the NDP forms the next government of British Columbia.

That day is about a year away; the next provincial election will be held in May of 2013. The notion that the NDP will win that election, and Adrian Dix will be the next premier of B.C., is supported by the most recent Angus Reid Public Opinion survey, released at the beginning of April. It found NDP support at 43 per cent among decided voters and leaners; the Liberals and Conservatives were tied at 23 per cent. http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/44483/new-democrats-remain-ahead-in-bc-as-conservatives-tie-liberals/

There are many who will be thrilled if the Liberals and Premier Christy Clark are sent packing next year, ending what by then will have been 12 consecutive years of Liberal governments in B.C. That number alone suggests, to many, that it is time for a change.

But what sort of change the NDP would bring — and what business leaders are preparing for — is not clear. That's the beauty of being the opposition as opposed to the government — you don't have to lay out detailed policies, which could open you up to attack. And the NDP, in its first year under Dix, has neither published nor said much about policy.

Perhaps some clues were presented at last fall's Union of B.C. Municipalities conference where Dix said: "We need to invest in people and communities..." He also called for a roll back of corporate income tax rates to 2008 levels and investment in post-secondary education and apprenticeships. And he said he would use the purchasing power of government to stimulate local economies and job creation. http://www.bcndp.ca/newsroom/dix-calls-investment-communities-and-people-ubcm

Education and health care currently account for roughly 60 per cent of government spending, and if the Liberals were to stay in office those two areas would account for 68.6 per cent of government spending by 2014-15. Assuming health care and education spending continue to grow under an NDP government, that either means less for all the other ministries or increasing annual deficits. Or both.

These are big-picture issues voters may choose to contemplate prior to the May 2013 election. For those of us in the tourism business, what can we expect from a NDP government? Again there is precious little to go on.

Tourism is several tiers below the big ministries of health care, education and natural resources in terms of spending, but tourism policy is important to a large part of the province. So far, the NDP doesn't have a tourism policy. In fact, the NDP has only released four statements relating to tourism since Dix became leader one year ago this week. The most recent statement, in January, was a rehash of a statement released last October, about how tourism visits to B.C. are falling and the Liberals have failed to capitalize on post-Olympic opportunities.

Citing a nine per cent drop in tourist numbers in October 2011 compared to October 2010, NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said: "Recent travel statistics show that, once again, we have fewer tourists visiting our communities. These declining tourism numbers mean fewer dollars spent in our communities, and fewer jobs." http://www.bcndp.ca/newsroom/bc-tourism-numbers-show-liberals-failed-capitalize-post-olympic-opportunities

While the numbers are correct the inference is that this is something new. In fact visitor entries to B.C. have, in the words of BC Stats, "been in rapid decline since 2001." That period coincides with the Liberals' reign in government but also huge changes in the world around us, including 9/11, increased border security, the rise in value of the Canadian dollar compared to the U.S. buck, SARS and, in the last four years, a major decline in the economy.

Last fall the premier introduced Gaining The Edge, a five-year strategy for tourism. There wasn't a lot of new material in the document but it did present a SWOT analysis of B.C. in the competitive world of tourism and identified consumer trends, key markets and strategies. These included: reducing barriers to travel, removing barriers to industry growth, key products, building partnerships and coordinating efforts. Among the priorities was developing "a stable and predictable funding mechanism for tourism."

There are many aspects to stable and predictable tourism funding. One of them is the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) money that is divvied up among the 14 communities that are part of the resort collaborative. Whistler is expecting $6.5 million in RMI funding this year.

The Liberals introduced RMI funding in 2006 specifically to enhance resort communities. The RMI funding formula was changed in 2010 with the introduction of the HST. It may change again in 2013 with the return to the provincial sales tax.

The NDP has said very little about tourism and carefully avoided specific commitments while cultivating an image as a business-friendly alternative to the Liberals. No one is anticipating anything as detailed as the Gaining The Edge document from the NDP but a commitment to stable and predictable funding for tourism is not too much to ask.