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THUNDER BAY, ON  -----   September 5, 2010  ----   For many tourism-related businesses in our riding, John Raffertythis time of year is also when they start to take stock of how their peak season has gone and how this will affect their bottom line.

Sadly for many operators this has been a very tough summer. A few weeks ago CBC’s “The National” did a feature on tourism in Northwestern Ontario in which they spoke with a long-time camp operator in the Nestor Falls area. In that piece, the operators noted their business was down 60% from the previous year. Unfortunately stories like this one have become more and more common as the economic downturn continues to take its toll.

Decisions taken by the Harper Conservative government have only added their own negative environment for tourism in Northwestern Ontario. The implementation of the HST has had multiple negative effects for our region, but the tourism sector has been among the hardest hit. As of July 1st, 2010 it became more expensive for tourists to visit our region and stay at local lodges and camps. When you compare that to our neighbours in Manitoba, where the New Democrat government has rejected Mr. Harper’s financial offers to establish an HST, tourism operators in Northwestern Ontario are now at a significant disadvantage.

One operator recently pointed out to me that he dreaded the thought of going to outdoors shows in the United States and competing against lodges and camps from Manitoba that have now have a built in price advantage in the hundreds of dollars. He had a fly-in operation, but the same problem persists for those who depend on travelers who must pay an extra 8 percent for their gas to get to the destination and for campground operators who must now charge 8 percent more for each site they book. These costs are substantial and quickly add up for tourists who are already looking to cut costs during these tough times.

To add further injury to insult, when the HST legislation was passed by the Harper Conservatives and McGuinty Liberals the province had to eliminate their provincial sales tax rebate program. Under that program, American tourists could apply for a rebate of the provincial sales taxes they paid on their purchases in Ontario. It was a huge plus for marketers and operators when they made their seasonal pitches. The government of Canada used to have a similar program for the GST, but the Harper Conservatives eliminated that program in April of 2007 for some reason that remains unknown.

Another factor that has been negatively affecting tourism in Northwestern Ontario his summer has to do with some issues at the border. I have heard numerous stories this summer about tourists from the United States being turned away at the border for minor legal issues that took place, in many cases, decades earlier. I’ve read and my office has received information about several Americans who have recently been turned away.

The border incidents that I have learned of recently are the sort of thing that can have a ‘chill’ effect on the entire tourism industry, so I take them very seriously. Members of my staff are in the process of submitting an Access to Information request that asks for a comparison of border crossings right across Canada to see how the number of problems at our crossings compare to others over time. While doing so, I also want to make it clear that I understand the difficult job that our customs officers have been tasked with doing and express my appreciation for the great work they do on our behalf. That being said, our federal government must find the right balance and make sure that our regulations and protocols secure our borders while interfering with our trade, tourism, and commerce as little as possible.

The combination of the economic downtown and the implementation of the HST and removal of the traveller rebates over the last several years under the Harper and McGuinty governments, there has been little relief for our tourism operators. Canada’s New Democrats have and will oppose any increases in our sales taxes I will continue to work to ensure that our federal regulations are tough but fair and interfere with our tourism and commercial interests as little as possible. It’s only fair for our tourism operators, and it is the right thing to do for our economy in Northwestern Ontario.

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