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Whistler's federal election candidates talk tourism

All-candidates meeting set for Oct. 9

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As election day on Oct. 21 draws ever nearer, the policy announcements from Canada's political parties keep rolling out—but tourism has remained conspicuously absent from the discussion.

With less than three weeks until the vote, Pique reached out to the Sea to Sky's federal election candidates to hear their thoughts on the single biggest issue driving the community.

Under that heading there are a multitude of factors at play—labour, housing, taxes and climate change to name just a few.

Here's some of what the candidates had to say on the topic, presented in the order they were interviewed.

GABRIELLE LOREN—CONSERVATIVE

Though the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has yet to float any tourism-related policies (the party's full platform won't be released until Oct. 11), Loren pointed to the party's proposed tax cuts and other measures to help small business as a way to assist tourism.

"There's nothing on tourism [in the policy announcements] yet, which makes me think that there is something coming. Tourism is a huge part of the Canadian economy, and you can't have the tourism dollars affected," she said.

"I don't know how the federal Conservatives are looking at it, but I'd like to see all sorts of things be advocated for."

Some of those things include easier access to foreign workers, and easier access to Whistler for tourists.

"I always have ideas, whether or not they'll fly is always another question," she said, adding she would like to see a "transportation corridor" up to Whistler that doesn't involve passenger vehicles.

"I would love to see a train come back up to Whistler where people can actually enjoy the view at the same time ... We've got some challenges in that regard, but at the same time, you know, nothing that technology can't win."

As for attracting labour, Loren said the key is housing, pointing to CPC pledges to review the mortgage stress test and use federal lands for housing.

"People want to live and work in their own community, that's the bottom line," she said.

Asked about the federal government's Tourism Growth Strategy released in May—which aims to grow tourism sector revenue by 25 per cent by 2025 while adding 54,000 new jobs—Loren said she hasn't "delved into it enough to make a comment."

ROBERT (DOUG) BEBB—PPC

The People's Party of Canada's (PPC) Robert (Doug) Bebb also referred to the party platform when asked how he will support tourism.

"It's important to us to have a consistent set of policies across the whole country, and the four watch words we have are individual freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect," Bebb said.

A PPC government would reduce the corporate tax rate from 15 per cent to 10 per cent, as well as introduce a "very simplified" tax structure with three incremental stages—in two years once it balances the budget, Bebb said.

"Looking back on history the Chrétien/Martin government, they balanced the budget fairly quickly at a time when the Liberals were fiscally responsible, which they aren't now, but then they went on to unfairly fund infrastructure projects to buy votes, so we're not going to do that," he said.

How would a PPC government prioritize federal infrastructure projects?

"Well we're not going to have any," Bebb said. "It's not fair to have infrastructure projects funded federally at the expense of other regions of Canada. It's a local matter."

As for labour, the PPC pledges to reduce overall immigration (while prioritizing economic working immigrants) from the current 350,000 to between 100,000 and 150,000.

"There will be a greater availability of beneficial workers in the immigrant pool, and we'll have temporary work permits available [on an] as-needed basis that might help the chambers of commerce here in Whistler and elsewhere," Bebb said.

But Whistler's labour shortage is "more a housing issue than it is a worker issue," he added.

Asked about the government's Tourism Growth Strategy, Bebb said he hadn't had a chance to study it in detail.

DANA TAYLOR—GREEN

The Green Party's platform identifies tourism as playing a key part in supporting Canada's transitioning economy, said Green candidate Dana Taylor.

"So [I'm] very much supportive, certainly, in the big terms of tourism, both tourism and eco tourism side of things, yes," he said. "There's lots there that makes Whistler certainly the crown jewel of B.C.'s tourism industry, and one that we would wholeheartedly support and find ways to support."

To do so, issues like transit, housing and labour are key pieces of the puzzle.

On the last point, Taylor said he would like to see more on-site apprenticeship and skills training taking place in the resort, through programs run in partnership with places like BCIT.

"I think there's plenty of opportunity in something like that ... Where the feds come into that, I don't know, other than maybe to facilitate some of the coordination," he said.

As for temporary foreign workers, Taylor said he would be willing to advocate for better access, given there were "more designated accommodations" and better wages for workers, as well as "a level of competency [in English] to ensure their safety."

On wages, Taylor touted the Green Party's pledge to raise the minimum wage and introduce a guaranteed annual livable income, and on housing, its plan to rewrite the mandate of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

"We believe that its role should be expanded to start to lead in the area of actually providing housing, and that would be in the areas of alternative housing models; co-ops are among them," he said.

Enhancing regional transportation would also "give more flexibility to the overall issue," Taylor said, noting that a 30-to-45-minute commute to work is not unusual in the urban centres.

With Sea to Sky leaders currently at a standstill with the provincial government over regional transit funding, is that something Taylor might advocate for?

"The answer is yes," he said. "I think it's maybe having a look at the mandate and also what problem is it we're trying to solve.

"There's no reason to exclude transportation and transit when it may fit in with a broader perspective on the overall security of economic interest for a given region or municipality."

Asked about the federal Tourism Growth Strategy, Taylor said he had not read it.

PATRICK WEILER—LIBERAL

The Liberal Party's Patrick Weiler—the only candidate who said they had read the Tourism Growth Strategy—said he thinks the document is important.

"I think it's really important that we're focusing on increasing tourism," he said. "One in 10 jobs in Canada is in the tourism sector, it can be a huge driver of growth going forward, and I think it's really important that we're going to continue to unleash the potential of tourism so we can drive economic growth and create jobs across the country."

To assist with that, the Liberals have pledged $100 million over four years through a tourism community infrastructure fund, Weiler said.

"This is going to be managed and delivered through different regional economic development agencies, and for me, if I'm elected as MP, I'm going to fight for Whistler to benefit from funds like these and other programs that the federal government has available," he said.

As for the labour question, Weiler said the Liberals have been working to increase access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program while trying to address some of the "larger underlying issues" like housing and affordability.

"Affordable housing is a big challenge for Whistler, and that's why we've created our National Housing Strategy, and now made an investment in creating some more affordable housing in Whistler recently," he said.

After several years of major tourism success, how can Whistler keep the momentum?

"For me, it's just continuing to make sure that we're meeting regularly with the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, with Tourism Whistler, to make sure that we can look ahead to some of these challenges that might be coming down the road, and making sure we have the right plan to get ahead of them before they materialize into bigger issues," he said, adding that one of the "key challenges" facing Whistler is the potential impact of climate change on a mountain resort municipality.

JUDITH WILSON—NDP

Whistler boasts geography that promotes itself well, as well as a huge industry that is already quite well known, said the NDP's Judith Wilson—but there is much to be done to support tourism in terms of labour and housing.

"We've got all sorts of issues there, none of which I have specialized knowledge of at this point in my life ... I've been doing family law," Wilson said. "I read the papers. I know that it's difficult to get people to do some of the lower-paid jobs. I know that in Gibsons and Sechelt, for example, that lots of restaurants don't open full time."

The NDP has pledged 500,000 affordable rental units with rent geared to income, "and we clearly have to go after a piece of that for the community," she said.

As for streamlining applications for temporary foreign workers, the party's policy is to support it, she added.

"The question is the how of it, and I would have to know quite a bit more about the actual internal workings of the actual office to be able to know how I could help," she said.

In that regard, Wilson feels her professional skills as a lawyer would come in handy.

"If I ran into one of our constituents, for example, who needed to have help steering its way through the process, I'm good at that," she said. "I'm a good advocate, and I know I would do a good job."

But hanging over the entire industry is the question of climate change, she added.

"The reality is that we're going to have to work together on it as well ... because we don't have all the answers here. The answers are really going to be in the community, and then what you need to have is a facilitator and a fighter. And I'm used to doing that."

Read about each candidate and their party platforms on their respective websites, and hear more about the issues important to you on Wednesday, Oct. 9 during the all-candidates debate at the Maury Young Arts Centre (kicking off at 6 p.m. sharp).

Also on the ballot are independent Terry Grimwood (running under his recently-formed Canada Fresh party banner) and the Rhino Party's Gordon Jeffrey.