With only 30 minutes allocated to the BC Green Caucus for Budget Estimates in Tourism, Arts and Culture it was difficult to dig into any topic to the level of detail that I would like.
I’ll certainly be following up with Minister Melanie Mark on the issues I raised. In this session I ask questions about why the provincial government does not have a sector specific post-COVID start-up plan for tourism and hospitality, the fate of the IMAX in Victoria, scrubber wash water from cruise ships and Indigenous repatriations of ancestral remains and items of cultural significance.
A. Olsen: Glad to be here with the Minister. I have a few questions in the next 28 minutes or so that we have left in your estimates.
Going through Hansard, I did read the questions yesterday around the Tourism Task Force that had been created and that had been created by the previous minister. I’m curious, because I’m still hearing from tourism operators and, as well, fairly substantial people within the industry that the level of engagement is not there and that they’re not being specifically engaged on a restart plan to ramp up once COVID-19 is over.
I’m just wanting to give you the opportunity, here, to maybe outline components of the restart plan as you see it, rather than kind of go back over who is part of the task force, etc. What does a restart plan look like from your perspective, and how are you engaging specific players in the industry that will need to ramp up and will need some time in order to prepare for that?
Hon. M. Mark: Sorry, I’m feeling the pressure of time as well.
I appreciate that the member opposite has looked at the Hansard. I guess there are a few different things. Engagement and representation are important. I am speaking to an Indigenous representative. I know that he’s very proud of where he comes from. Being Nisg̱a’a, Nisg̱a’a represent Nisg̱a’a.
There are lots of folks involved on the tourism advisory table. Many of them are tasked or asked to represent the wide range of their sector. I’m happy to give the list to the member opposite: the B.C. Motor Coach Coalition, go2HR, Adventure Tourism Coalition, Canada West Ski Areas Association, Pacific Destination…. I won’t go into it for the sake of time. But there is a tourism advisory table. They have met directly with the provincial health officer to weigh out their concerns, to share their concerns.
We are in the middle of phase 4 of our restart planning. It’s a whole-of-government approach. I’m not trying to repeat just for the sake of it, for the member. Some of these folks are representative and participate on the Industry Engagement Table, also, raising their concerns.
I will say, though, that there isn’t going to be a sector-by-sector plan, a restart plan. There are some that have very similar challenges, and many have similar challenges because they can’t gather. They can’t have events. They can’t go shoulder to shoulder. They can’t sweat side by side. For all of those reasons, they’re in a different category.
Many of them under my ministry — sports, events, tourism — are being impacted. The Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation and I are working side by side. We’re getting closer to making public announcements that will come from government with the advice and direction of the provincial health officer.
I hope that satisfies. I’m not sure exactly which group the member is talking about that doesn’t feel represented, but I try to be accessible as I can. Time, as he knows, in our schedule, in the meetings that we have to try to squeeze into a day, can be challenging. We try to meet with many people as we can for it to be productive and meaningful.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Minister, for the response. I guess I’m looking less for the…. I’m pretty clear on who is being consulted at the task force level and looking more along the lines of tourism and hospitality. Of all of the industries that have been impacted by COVID, these have been the hardest-hit industries and are going to need some time to open back up, some time to rehire, retrain — all of those things. The planning needs to be engaging at the business level.
This will be my last question on this aspect of it. Just wondering what the specific plans are going to be for the hospitality and tourism industries, which have been required by public health authorities to shut down their businesses to the extent that…. I don’t think any other sector has been required to down tools like this one— like hospitality and tourism.
So are you going to be…? While you were taking an all-of-government approach, is there anything specific that you’re doing with those operators to help to preplan and get them ready for when we get to the eventuality where we can start to open back up again?
Hon. M. Mark: I just want to correct the member, because the member is referring to a Tourism Task Force, and I’m talking about a tourism advisory table that we struck. There is a Tourism Task Force that gave recommendations, and we’re working on those recommendations. Plus there’s a tourism advisory table that we’ve struck to hear directly from folks, which includes the Hotel Association, Indigenous Tourism B.C., the Restaurant Association — a host of organizations that are laying out what their concerns are.
They’ve talked about…. Do we have an incentive program? Are we going to have vaccination passports? When are we going to have international visitors? There’s a whole bunch of things we don’t know. What we are focusing on…. The member is talking about timelines. The indication that Dr. Bonnie Henry has given is that we’ve got this circuit breaker. The member is referring to what has happened and what has been the relief. The relief has been circuit breaker until we get to May 25. That is where we are at this moment in time.
We often hear the Minister of Health talking about being laser focused. That is our focus. We also have vaccination here right now. The signal that Dr. Bonnie Henry has given to the sector is that brighter days are coming in the summer, as a season, but the idea of big, massive festivals and crowds and all of these massive events, gatherings, is not going to happen in the summer. It’s not an easy message to deliver.
That’s why the pivoting — Destination B.C. and folks — is about staying local, supporting local. Support your local tour operator. Take an adventure tourism ecosystem, whatever thing it is, within the restrictions. That is the plan right now. We’re going to continue working on a more transparent cross-government plan, but that is what we’re focused on with my ministry.
A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister. I think that this probably just opens up a conversation for us to have when we’re not confined to time, necessarily, where we can talk about, I think, the difference between consulting and hearing what the industry needs and what the industry wants.
I think the aspect of this that I’m asking questions around is: what plans are being put in place? Whether we open up tomorrow, three months from now, six months from now, nine months from now, it’s going to require some time for businesses to be able to ramp up, and clearly, it’s going to take some time for tourists to start to come back. However, we’re hearing in industries like the cruise ship industry, for example, that they’re booking. So there is a situation where, I think, once the restrictions are lifted and people are vaccinated, people are going to start to go. It’s going to take a while for industry.
It’s less around listening to what the industry needs and more around putting in place a proactive plan. Let me just note that I’ve asked that question, and the minister and I can get together and have a conversation about the pre-planning that’s necessary. The businesses that I’m talking to are requesting, I think, a little bit more information around the plan rather than the consultation aspect of it, which I think the government has consistently done pretty well over the past 14 months.
Just pivoting here a little bit, there are programs that have been put in place to support small and medium enterprises in this tourism and hospitality sector, but there’s been very little put in the way of supports for larger businesses. There’s this assumption that because it’s a larger business — well, I think it’s an assumption — it can then survive. So just a single question to the minister around support for large enterprises.
The reality is that the scale of damage that’s done to these enterprises is similar to the size of their business. Has the minister and the minister responsible for JERI and the government at all considered supports for large enterprises — the homegrown tourism and hospitality businesses here in British Columbia?
Hon. M. Mark: Thank you to the member opposite. I want to go back to the last point, though. The thing about a pandemic…. I want certainty too. Trust me. Last year, I wanted…. I’m not saying this in a frustrated way or like it’s not fair to ask the question. People have a right to ask the question, of course. We have a right to hear from them. But it’s that balance of, like, I can go out and throw out a date, which would be irresponsible. I could spin the bottle, put my finger on a date, and just say, “Hey, this is what we’re working towards,” and then be completely blamed for setting people up to fail.
There’s a saying in martial arts: “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” I hear what the member is saying around trying to have that certainty, and that’s where we’ve done things like destination development and supporting with pivoting so that people have PPE and the equipment that consumers are looking for.
Right now it’s domestic consumers, and when it’s safe, it’s going to be interprovincial. Some of that work is being done. I’m happy to have a conversation with the member at a later date.
The big enterprises that he’s calling about…. I define enterprise…. I would say that in Budget 2021, we committed $100 million, part of which will be for supporting tourism, and the other for anchor attractions. The anchor attractions are those immobile things. You can’t just pick up and set aside and put it online, so to speak — that have to endure a number of costs — whatever. I’m not even going to give examples.
That work is being done, and I am sure if the member opposite listened to this exciting debate, the program development is underway. We’re hoping to roll something out in the next couple of weeks. I’m extremely impatient, because we recognize that this is an area of support that we need to fill. Small and medium business grants have had a level of support, and now the pivot is to this group. I hope to have good news to share in the next little while.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Minister, for that response. To a question about the IMAX in Victoria: I have heard unfortunate rumours that the IMAX in Victoria may be shutting down. I’m just wondering if…. This is an attraction that I know my family and many families that I know enjoy as part of the Royal B.C. Museum.
Can the minister allay any fears that the rumours of the IMAX shutting down, or potentially shutting down in Victoria, are untrue, or maybe elaborate on that question?
Hon. M. Mark: Yeah, to the member opposite, I have not heard that. I just checked in with the team to qualify that. It was purchased by the RBC Museum. It was a big part of their vision, moving forward. It’s not operating right now because of the provincial health officer, because of the order. Along with other theatres, they’re just not allowed to operate. But it will be there for his kids. The older they get — it will be there.
That’s all I can say, but I have not heard anything about it closing. It’s a big part of, actually, the future goal of moving forward with our modernization project.
A. Olsen: I have two more questions, and I’ll just move very quickly through them, and we can shut down the estimates debate for Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport.
The question has been raised to me around the scrubber washwater from large vessels — in this instance, talking about cruise ships, but I think it’s more broadly applicable than that. Clearly, this is a Transport Canada responsibility.
However, as part of tourism and, I think, the growing reliance on the tourists that visit our destinations up and down the coast that get here by cruise ship, I’m wondering if the minister has had this brought to her attention — the scrubber washwater is incredibly toxic — and whether or not the province of British Columbia would advocate to the government of Canada to bring us into alignment with our neighbours. My understanding is that the states to the north and to the south of us have greater regulations than we do and that there’s been a request to get us in alignment.
So whether or not the minister has thought to advocate on behalf of the environment — through the sensitive Salish Sea, particularly, but up and down the coast as well, on behalf of all of the animals and critters that live there — to clean up the scrubber washwater that’s being dumped in our jurisdiction.
Hon. M. Mark: I have to say, as sure as the member opposite was talking, I was frantically writing and trying to jog my memory of everything I’ve read in the last time since I’ve become the minister, and I’m not familiar with the matter that the member’s raising. Happy to follow up. I think there are elements here, of course, where my colleagues would have a role, both at the provincial level and our Transport Canada colleagues.
I appreciate the member raising the topic with us, but it would be irresponsible for me to talk about my position. We can follow up in writing post-estimates.
A. Olsen: This is like the lightning round, I think. We’re just doing the lightning round. I’m just putting down markers for conversations for the minister and I to get together and to have these conversations in the coming weeks. I’ll be happy to help provide the information that I was sent, and perhaps the minister can connect with her colleagues.
The final question. I’ve raised it a few times, and there’s no way that we’re going to be able to cover this really important issue that is close to my heart and that I’ve raised both in my throne speech response and as well my budget response. That has to do with our ancestors, Indigenous ancestors, that are in museums around the world, our items of cultural significance that remain in drawers and closets in museums around the world.
I know that the ministry has a program that puts about $500,000 a year into programs that retrieve these items and that help Indigenous nations to go through the very painful, long and expensive process that costs way, way more — ten times, often — the $30,000 that the provincial government contributes. I’ve raised this in the past. I’ll continue to raise it. I’m hoping that we can work in partnership to put together a program — I’ve raised this, actually, with your staff in the ministry in the past — that I think would be viable.
One of the really critical aspects of reconciliation is that there are a number of items that have no business being in museums but really need to be with our people throughout British Columbia.
I’m just wondering what the minister’s plans are in terms of ramping up the activity that the ministry’s been investing in, but not nearly enough, in terms of Indigenous revitalization, retrieving the remains of our ancestors that are in museums and those items of cultural significance that take so much effort to get home when it’s so unnecessary.
Hon. M. Mark: Thank you very much to the member for asking this question. I anticipated receiving this question. I read the transcripts from the last estimates. I hope that I can give some confident….
There are some people that will talk in a way, like, to my brother? When I’m with my cousins, I can talk to my “bro,” and all of my cousins are my “bros.” But as an Indigenous person to another Indigenous person — who are representatives in these chambers, who represent our constituencies — I appreciate the value of the question from the member opposite. His lens is not my lens. I won’t speak on behalf of his self-determination and the sovereignty of his nations.
But my relatives are all the way up in the Nass Valley and up in Gitxsan territories, and there’s definitely more work to do. The work that I have been talking to my team about: pulling out the articles, DRIPA and Riel…. The member opposite was a part of that historical moment when we voted for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
But we also know that talk is cheap. It’s not about money. It’s about the action and the reconciliation action. That’s why I signed up to be an elected official. Lots to say. I want to quote article 12 of the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. I want to underscore that it is a right.
I want to hear what the member has to say about that program that he has in mind. I don’t know exactly what that is. I haven’t seen that. But there’s certainly more to do. The piece that the member is talking about is something that I can share, because there aren’t many of us.
For the historical records of Hansard, I’m the first and only First Nations woman to ever get elected in this chamber. I’m Nisga’a and Gitxsan and Cree and Ojibwe. So I can appreciate what the member is saying needs to change. This is where, I think, you break down the partisan lines, and you do the work together. I’ll just leave it there, on the note of paddle together. Thank you to the member for raising the question.
The Chair: Member from Saanich North, does that conclude your questions?
A. Olsen: I have nothing else to add on top of that. I want to raise my hands to the minister for the success that she has found in this institution. I want to thank her for that answer. I look forward to working with her as a relative on this. My office will be reaching out, too, so that I can share the information that I have — or the ideas that I have, at the very least.
That’s the end of my questions today. Thank you to the minister. Thank you to the staff in the ministry. As well, thank you to the legislative staff for helping to facilitate these budget estimates. With that, I will stop talking.
The Chair: Thank you, Member. Seeing no further questions, I ask the minister if they would like to make any closing remarks before I call the vote.
Hon. M. Mark: Just having the member opposite say those words, I take my stance as the minister very seriously. There is a lot going on in the file, and my emotion comes from…. I’m a very visceral person. I take to heart that people are hurting right now. I take to heart that we are in a pandemic and that people overlooked things like our museums and our theatres and our places of belonging and arts and sports and all of those outlets that make us whole.
I want to thank the members opposite for coming here and being advocates at this time that, I think, is very historic. I just feel…. I feel the weight of the world but the support of the Creator to do what’s right, as I can in this role as the minister.
I’ll leave it there.