NDP critic blames Libs for damage to tourism, BC Ferries

BC NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert in North Vancouver Nov. 3, 2012. - Outlook photo
BC NDP tourism critic Spencer Chandra Herbert in North Vancouver Nov. 3, 2012.
— image credit: Outlook photo

Provincial New Democrats say an NDP government in Victoria would reverse the damage they say the governing BC Liberals have inflicted on the province’s tourism and ferries industries.

Speaking in North Vancouver early this month, NDP tourism critic and MLA for Vancouver-West End Spencer Chandra Herbert told The Outlook a New Democrat government would restore Tourism BC as an industry-led Crown corporation.

In August 2009, the Liberal government axed the 12-year-old tourism marketing body, placing the development of tourism in the province under what was then the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and is now the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

Many at the time, including industry insiders and political opponents, criticized the government for putting politicians and bureaucrats in charge of a sector of the B.C. economy that they argued was best left to tourism and marketing professionals.

But two days after Chandra Herbert spoke with The Outlook on Nov. 3, Premier Christy Clark announced Destination BC, which is ostensibly, claim New Democrats, the same industry-led and formula-funded body the NDP had long been calling for.

“When I first made this commitment,” Premier Clark announced in Vancouver on Nov. 5, “I stood beside Nancy Stibbard at her Capilano Suspension Bridge and I promised that we would create an unbiased strategy based on ideas that were made from the ground up rather than imposed from the top down.”

While applauding the move as a step in the right direction following Clark’s announcement, Chandra Herbert said the government’s new plan — set to take effect April 1, 2013 — amounted to too little too late.

“Finally they seem to have heard our and the industry’s call but there are still a lot of details that are unclear,” he added.

For one, in its first year up and running, Destination BC is slated to get the same funding that its ministry tourism counterpart currently gets. But after that year, whether Destination BC will be funded by a hotel room tax like its Tourism BC predecessor or another tax is not yet publicly known.

And while Chandra Herbert was in North Vancouver calling for the re-privatization of B.C.’s tourism marketing industry, he also blamed the Liberal government for the rising fare costs onboard BC Ferries, saying the government had turned the service into a “cruise line” amid slumping ridership.

“For some tourists, they see it as a cruise and that’s exciting for them,” he said. “But in the end it’s principle role is transportation for British Columbians, so we certainly want it to be an attractive ride but mainly an affordable one.”

The government is currently hosting dozens of meetings in communities up and down the coast to consult with the public on cost-saving measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of the ferry services in the face of rising operating costs.

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