Local MLA candidates talk tourism

Candidates highlighted unique approach to supporting small businesses during SPIN’s Oct. 15 debate

File photo

How best to support the tourism industry during these unprecedented times was front and centre during last week’s MLA debate for the Kamloops-North Thompson riding.. 

Hosted by Sun Peaks Independent news, all five of the candidates for the riding—BC Conservatives candidate Dennis Giesbrecht, BC Green candidate Thomas Martin, BC Liberal candidate Peter Milobar, independent Brandon Russel and BC NDP candidate Sadie Hunter—took part. 

Hunter highlighted the NDP’s plan to set aside $100 million specifically for the tourism sector. 

Fifty million of that will be put towards tourism-dependent communities, marketing for regional tourism, and a recovery strategy for the province’s tourism agency.

The other $50 million will be dispensed according to the recommendations of a tourism task force. 

In addition, qualifying tourism businesses will be able to access $300 million in grant money for small- and medium- sized businesses. Under the current plan, tourism businesses can also access a top-up for their grant of $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the size of their business. 

(Businesses looking to access the learn more and apply here.)

Milobar, who served as the MLA for the riding for the past three years, voiced concern about the NDP’s approach, saying the party has been far too slow to get the money out the door and that the requests of industry have been “completely ignored.”

“Most operators are not asking for handouts, they want to be able to survive,” he said. “They will retool their business plan, [and] know that it might take them a little bit longer to pay off some of those loans.”

For their part, the BC Liberals are proposing to eliminate the PST for one year, followed by cutting it to three per cent in year two. The party has also said that it would facilitate the dissemination of loans to the hospitality and tourism sector by guaranteeing loans.  

Currently, PST is applied at eight per cent to hotel and other short-term accommodation sales in B.C. 

Milobar added that funding should be provided to tourism operators “immediately” given that many of them are in such difficult situations. 

In response, Hunter criticised the Liberal plan, saying a tax cut would be of little help to tourism businesses given the lack of money coming through the door right now. 

“[The NDP  plan] will help everyone, not not just certain communities,” said Hunter. “We also feel that the proposed two per cent small business tax that is being proposed by the Liberal government isn’t going to really help businesses who are struggling because at the end of the day it will help businesses that are generating revenue.” 

But if you’re not generating revenue, then two per cent of nothing is still nothing. 

The BC Green party has also criticized the NDP’s handling of the recovery, with BC Green leader Sonia Fursteneau saying the decision to call a snap election has effectively delayed the dissemination of funds to hard-hit businesses. 

Her party wants to allocate  $300 million to create a six month rent subsidy program for small businesses, in which qualifying businesses would have 25 per cent of their rentals covered. 

The Greens would also retool the provincial grant program to focus on supporting small-tourism operators and accelerate the timeline to get money out.

Martin said the party would also ensure non-profits aren’t left out and that money is allocated in an equitable way. 

“‘[We want to] make sure that not-for-profit tourism operators, such as heritage museums and other cultural facilities, aren’t left out of this program,” he said. 

The Greens would also work with the federal government to establish a repayable loan system for bigger companies, he said. 

“We recognize that larger businesses have means that are out of reach of small businesses,” he said. “You have to treat them differently.” 

The BC Conservatives approach involves making changes to the province’s tax system as a way to stimulate the economy and create employment. 

Giesbrecht said repayable loans aren’t a long-term fix and floated the idea of a local tax credit as a way to encourage B.C. residents to travel locally. 

“We’ve all heard of the hundred mile diet. Well, let’s start looking at the hundred-mile vacation or the 200-mile vacation,” said Giesbrecht.”The program could encourage British Columbians to explore their own backyard and support small businesses. Getting the tourists back into those facilities is what’s going to keep these people alive.”

Russell, the independent candidate, also voiced concern about the NDP approach, saying he felt that the party’s decision to call the election after announcing its recovery strategy is problematic. 

“I think people are more likely to vote for someone if they just got a nice big paycheck in their bank account,” said Russell. “And I think that that is something that needs to be addressed within the legislature as well. If elected, I would work hard to make sure that we’re putting businesses before party politics.” 

The debate also saw some discussion about the unique challenges facing rural communities. 

Milobar criticized the NDP over cancelling the Rural Dividend Fund—which provided funding of up to $25 million a year to assist rural communities with a population of 25,000 or less—and called on it to be reinstated. 

“We need to reinstate programs like that,” he said, noting the challenges they face raising funds from a small tax base.