In the 30 minutes I had in Budget Estimates 2023 with new Minister Hon. Lana Popham, I asked about support for the tourism industry, museum storage of sacred Indigenous cultural items, support for music festivals, and involvement in the Belleville terminal upgrade in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
It’s nice to be here in Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport.
Congratulations, Minister, on your new post. The operators in this sector of the economy and our communities are lucky to have you as the minister. I just wanted to share that with you.
I’ve been hearing from tourism operators with respect to a system review that’s underway and, I guess, some suggestions…. What has been proposed in a what-we-heard report is coming across as being radical or, at least, further than what they’re comfortable with, especially in recovery mode from COVID.
The reality is…. Many, from what I’m hearing, would like to get their feet under them and see a few years of stability before any major changes or radical changes, as they’ve been framed to me, would be put forward.
Maybe the minister can provide just a little background on…. What is trying to be achieved from this, and what kind of process is being followed?
Hon. L. Popham:
Thanks for the question. It’s nice to see the member in here as well.
The Tourism Task Force asked us to go out and take a look at the resiliency of the sector. So that’s exactly what the ministry did, went out and asked a question: coming out of COVID, are we well positioned to thrive in a global market?
That tour took place through round tables, discussions with everyone right across the province. All of that information was gathered, and it was published in a what-we-heard report. I think that’s the report the member is referring to. What we were planning to do is to go through that report and look at things that we could take action on that the industry was asking for.
We haven’t heard that there’s anything radical in it. So if the member has some feedback to give us about how radical the ideas are, we would love to hear it.
I guess there was articulated to me just a little dismay around maybe a lack of engagement with some people who have been involved in tourism over the long term. I think many of the operators that I speak to are working to try to rebuild their operation. So that’s the primary focus.
I’m just wondering what the minister’s sensitivity is to ensuring that the tourism systems we have in the province aren’t being changed under businesses that are trying to operate. I guess I’m just wondering what the sensitivity is, for the ministry and for the minister, going forward, and engaging the businesses and making sure that whatever adjustments are made are not going to further hamper their ability to restabilize after such a devastating time.
Hon. L. Popham:
I understand what the member is concerned about, but I just want to put him at ease. The what-we-heard report was a combination of all of the engagement that we did, so 150 organizations and I think 170 individual people. If we’ve missed somebody, I would ask the member to make sure that we have that chance to discuss with them what their worries are.
But from what-we-heard report, as I mentioned, we will identify things that could possibly be action items, but we will in no way surprise the sector. This will be absolutely transparent and with more discussion if we were to move forward on anything.
We have no intent of making life harder for folks that are still trying to get back up on their feet and make a go of it. We know that some people are struggling still. We see some parts of the sector doing really well, but we know that there’s still some problems out there.
The best thing to do is to have your folks come in and chat with us, because it’s an open door policy, and perhaps there’s something we can do in regards to their particular problems. But I appreciate the feedback from the member.
I didn’t suspect that the goal of the ministry was to get in the way of the recovery of the industry at all — happy to have further conversations about this. I felt like I had to honour some of the conversations that I have heard and some of the feedback here in this opportunity, so that’s what I’ve done. We can continue these conversations over the border of Saanich.
We can in that same conversation probably talk for a long time about repatriation and museums. I know the minister has heard me talk about this and ask questions in the past. I could spend today and tomorrow and several days just asking questions about this. I hope that we can sit down and have a longer conversation about this in future days.
I’ll just ask when it comes to repatriation, museums…. One of the dismaying things that I heard when I was afforded a tour of the museum was that there was, I guess, consultation done with Indigenous people, and there was a suggestion that they were choosing to leave their sacred items that the museum has in the buildings that have previously been framed as buildings that are going to come down in an earthquake, they’re not safe, all of the things that have been said about the buildings over the past year.
[M. Dykeman in the chair.]
When I started to ask around in my community who it was that was consulted as to whether or not we would like our items as families in the building — I guess it’s over there actually, technically — at the museum, or if we would like them stored in Colwood, there didn’t seem to be any conversation.
I don’t know that the minister can necessarily answer this question as to what level of consultation on behalf of RBCM, but I will pose it and perhaps maybe a written response back. What is the process to determine which nations were consulted? Can nations choose to have their items protected in the new building, which has been, frankly, described as being the Cadillac of the buildings?
If we have sacred items, that’s where I would prefer our items to be kept, rather than in the building that’s been described as the one that’s going to fall down. But I just don’t know what the conversation was with nations and how robust it was.
Hon. L. Popham:
That was an interesting question. Just so you know that I understand what’s happened, there was an intent to keep the Indigenous collections in the downtown museum, because we were expecting a new building. Now that that’s changed, there is room for more discussion on that. I respect what the member is saying about expectations. Let me just say that the door is open to have those conversations now. We can have a larger discussion offline about that.
That’s awesome. I really appreciate the response. Thank you.
With that, I’m going to adroitly moved to canceled festivals. Can the minister…?
Just switching gears here. There have been a number of festivals that unfortunately are suffering right now from what we’ve seen over the last little bit with some announcements. I think the largest — in the news, anyway — is the Vancouver Folk Festival. It says here that it’s tentative. I think that it’s challenged, anyway. There are events in Surrey, Merritt and Squamish. What level of engagement has the ministry had in trying to save some of these really important summer festivals?
Hon. L. Popham:
A couple of weeks ago, we announced $30 million to save fairs, festivals and events. The Vancouver Folk Festival was one of the ones that received funding last year with a $30 million announcement, and I know they’ve applied for funding for this year. Whether or not they’re able to continue on and have a festival is yet to be seen. We should be hearing about that in the next couple of weeks.
But we did recognize that many festivals and fairs and events are not able to use the same business plan they’ve been using for the last few years and successfully hold what they want to hold. So we saw that. The $30,000 is a lifeline to get them through this last year, hoping that the live audiences will come back, and we do expect that by next year, they’ll either have come up with a different business plan to move forward with events or they’ll see their audiences returning and ticket sales up, and they’ll be fine to carry on. But we did get a lot of great feedback that people wanted the joy back in the province. So this was a bit of a joy fund.
No doubt it will inspire much in communities around the province.
Was there a thought about perhaps extending support over the next few years — three years, let’s say — so that we can…? I mean, one of the things is it takes a lot of volunteer power, mostly, to put these events on, and it’s really the stability of those events. So from year to year, one of the challenges that we’ve had since 2019 with COVID is the unknown of year over year.
Was there any thought about maybe extending that so that the people who are making the decision now…? “Do I continue with this event that seemingly is challenged this year and is likely to be challenged in the coming years, or do I put my volunteer time somewhere else?” We might have been able to have produced a little bit more confidence if we had created a bigger window than that. Was it ever considered?
Hon. L. Popham:
Last year, when the $30 million was released, it was a new fund for fares, festivals and events right across the province. It was able to provide funds for I think 187 communities. There were about 900 applications. So it really made the difference for a lot of them.
We recognize that this year, again, maybe the pressure wasn’t the same, but there was still a large pressure. So releasing another $30 million for folks to access…. We were told that’s the lifeline that they needed.
We have seen recovery on attendance, and so I think we’ll have to reassess where we’re at next year, but we have confidence that the volunteers are going to come back this year, that the audiences are going to come back this year. So if anyone here is thinking about volunteering or attending, please do it. But we’re confident that we’re going to see some positive progress. If not, we’ll have to have another conversation.
I was just trying to frame it maybe a little negatively so that then you could deliver the positive message of: please volunteer for your local festivals and events.
There was just a question with respect to the Belleville terminal and the upgrade that’s there. I guess this is probably my final question here.
Just with respect to maybe the involvement of this ministry…. I know the Minister of Transportation and others are doing work around this. Has the ministry taken a supportive role in that, in advocating for…? I think that whole strip here in the downtown core, all the way around to the cruise ship terminal on the other side with shore power and all of that which would support the tourism industry…. What level of engagement has the ministry been in that?
Hon. L. Popham:
Thanks for the question. I can let the member know that my ADM, Nick, sits on the project board for this amazing project. It’s the number one infrastructure project that is of concern to the tourism industry here on the Island, so yes, we are very supportive and we’re very involved.
That was kind of like the lightning round at the end of a long day, so I appreciate the minister’s response to my questions, and I look forward to working with you in your new portfolio.