Minister of Economic Development Melanie Joly rises at a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, June 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Indigenous tourism group frets for future over funding gap in federal budget

OTTAWA — A group representing thousands of Indigenous-led tourism operators says it doesn’t think the recent federal budget will do enough to help the industry avoid collapse.

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada asked the government for just over $68 million over three years to help the sector by providing operating grants and a marketing campaign among other measures.

Instead, there was about $2.4 million for this year that the association’s chief executive says isn’t enough for it to provide targeted help.

Melanie Joly, the minister responsible, said she understands the association’s concerns and intends to figure out a way forward.

She pointed to work in the past through regional development agencies, whom Joly as economic development minister oversees, to get support to Indigenous operators as one financial option to keep businesses in the small, but growing, sector from going under.

There are also other programs to provide interest-free loans and non-repayable grants to Indigenous businesses, and ease their access to capital.

“We’ve always found solutions together, and we will,” Joly said in an interview. “So we will be there to support Indigenous tourism businesses. That’s a promise that, of course, I will continue to keep.”

The budget promised an injection of $1 billion over three years, starting this fiscal year, for the tourism industry beleaguered by a lack of travellers and public health measures forcing festivals to cancel events.

Some of the budget money will go to help cover the costs of innovative solutions to connect with festival-goers and help hard-hit downtown cores by extension, Joly said.

“There will not be a strong restart of our downtown cores in the country if there’s not a strong restart of the tourism sector,” Joly said.

Joly said the plan to promote travel, once it is safer to do so, will be first within regions, then within provinces, and building ultimately to attracting international visitors.

The plan rests on vaccination rates rising and lowering case counts to lift lockdown and ease restrictions, including at the border.

“Hopefully we’re moving in that right direction and we’ll be able to welcome more tourists soon, because that is what businesses want to see even though the supports are there,” said Liberal MP Chris Bittle, whose riding of St. Catharines is in the Niagara region of Ontario.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he and his American counterparts are figuring out what they would need to see before easing border restrictions so “we can resume the same type of economic and social activity between our two countries in a safe way.”

Until pleasure travel is easily allowed, Joly noted an ongoing need to help places like northern Ontario, parts of New Brunswick or the Yukon that rely on American tourists.

It is in northern, rural and remote regions where you can find many Indigenous-owned or operated tourism businesses, such as restaurants, outdoor adventure operators or hotels.

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada says the sector had about 1,9000 businesses and some 40,000 employees pre-pandemic. COVID-19 has sent those numbers cratering and raising the need for an Indigenous-led recovery plan, said association CEO Keith Henry.

“We’ve lost 30 years of progress because of COVID, but with this federal budget, you can add more,” he said.

“It’s very challenging times and we’re continuing to hope that the federal government will adjust their thinking.”

Last year, the Liberals unrolled a $16-million program where the association delivered $25,000 grants to hundreds of businesses to keep them afloat.

Henry said many of the existing business aid programs aren’t easily accessible by the companies his association represents, which is why the group made a budget ask of $68 million alongside its provincial and territorial partners.

He also said the association is preparing to hand out layoff notices to its staff over the shortfall in federal funding.

“This is not some weird cash grab,” he said. “This is the reality (and) what we need.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

If you're heading out to the West Country have a plan in case things go wrong, says Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services fire chief Steve Debienne.
(Photo from CRFRS Facebook)
West Country visitors should have an emergency plan: regional fire chief

Cellphones can’t be relied on in many back country areas

Rode
Sarcevic leads an impressive list of additions to RDC Kings soccer

In 2019 the RDC Kings soccer program took a major step forward… Continue reading

The Red Deer PCN Women's Fun Run will take on a different look this weekend with rising COVID-19 numbers.
Women’s Fun Run goes ahead this weekend in Red Deer

With new public health measures in place because of rising COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw asked Albertans to limit travel throughout the province as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears 900 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports additional 2,211 COVID-19 cases

David Eggen, the NDP’s advanced education critic, said the UCP government has been focused on cutting funding to post-secondary institutions across Alberta. (Contributed photo)
NDP worry new status for Red Deer College doesn’t mean more funding

This week the province announced that RDC will become a polytechnic institute

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Wizards beat Raptors in OT, Toronto playoff bid nearly over

Toronto Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (37) hits a single to drive in two runs against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Grichuk drives in 5, Jays beat A’s 10-4 for series split

Canada's Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductee Jayna Hefford speaks in Toronto on Wednesday, October 23, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Three Canadian teams to play in women’s hockey Dream Gap Tour in Calgary

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Rugby Canada says some members of women’s sevens team have tested positive for COVID

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson, centre, makes a shot as lead Briane Meilleur, left, and second Shannon Birchard sweep against Denmark at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, May 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

Einarson’s five-game win streak ends with loss to Japan at world curling playdowns

FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Canadian athletes, coaches applaud news of vaccine doses ahead of Tokyo

Canadian athletes, coaches applaud news of vaccine doses ahead of Tokyo

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals pressed to ease access to EI parental leave to help unemployed moms

Liberals pressed to ease access to EI parental leave to help unemployed moms

Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, appears as a witness via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee in Ottawa, Thursday, July 30, 2020. The Canadian Press has learned that Katie Telford has written members of the defence committee inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against Canada's former top military commander, offering to testify at their meeting Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
PM’s chief of staff offers to testify on Vance sexual misconduct allegations

PM’s chief of staff offers to testify on Vance sexual misconduct allegations

Most Read