By Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh
A housing and labour shortage are long-running issues in Jasper. Those realities, and the fact that tourism is one of the hardest-hit sectors in the country, will take a dedicated team approach for recovery, said Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault during a stop in Jasper on March 18 and 19.
“Housing is an issue across the country, so it’s an issue across mountain parks as well, and I understand it’s an acute issue,” Boissonnault said in an interview with the Fitzhugh.
“It requires a response from all levels of government, and we need to make sure in this case, the municipality, Parks, the province… make sure everybody is going in the same direction. It means when an amount of land becomes available that we use the land constructively, creatively and that… is making sure that you’ve got suites that are affordable for the long term.”
Boissonnault also noted how some mountain park resorts have built-in housing.
“I think, as the town develops, and as Jasper, and the national park itself, embrace sustainable tourism, we’ve got to solve that housing issue, because even with the best job in the world, you’re not going to go to it without a roof over your head,” he said.
“I want to make sure that Jasper and Banff are availing themselves of the National Housing Strategy. It’s important for us to make sure that projects are submitted, qualify and that we can make sure that federal dollars are flowing here, not just from Parks, but from the housing strategy.”
Boissonnault said his job is to promote tourism, promote the visitor economy, “make sure that we are ready to embrace this, what I hope is the busiest summer and fall season in at least a couple of years, and to make sure we’re sending the right signal to the world that we’re open for business.”
That means ensuring entrepreneurs and the businesses can satisfy that demand, as Boissonnault noted there was a “fine balance” between wanting visitors to come and being constrained by housing or labour limitations.
Last week, the federal government announced the April 1 removal of testing requirements for inbound vaccinated travellers.
With the ever-changing pandemic, Boissonnault said the government would continue to follow the science and data.
Between six and 10 per cent of the travelling public had COVID during the height of Omicron, but now random testing at airports is showing this is about one per cent.
“That really guided us in this decision, among other data points, to make sure we could remove the arrivals testing for fully vaccinated travellers coming to Canada,” Boissonnault said.
“And that is the number one, the number two and the number three thing the tourism sector has been saying to me since I first met with the industry people after I became minister, and certainly it’s been something they’ve been asking for ever since November and December of last year.”
Boissonnault said removing this testing is “a good signal” and “a step in the right direction at the right time.”
At the same time, he added, “We’ve got to build some flex into our business models and our flex into what we do as a government, so if COVID does throw us a curveball, that we’re able to handle it.”
Examples of “flex” include continuing to cater to domestic travellers while also promoting international tourism.
“We want them to come back, but that we’re also flexible and nimble in how we make sure our marketing dollars are going to the right places and that we are able to… do the right investments to bring them back but also keep some for a rainy day,” Boissonnault said.
Boissonnault said he has been told by local businesses that without federal supports they would have shut their businesses down.
“We wanted to make sure we avoided the worst depression since the 1930s, and that’s why the federal government invested $511 billion in Canadians and our businesses and our communities, our municipalities in our provinces, so we could be ready for this recovery of the economy,” he said.
“The Canadian economy is, on the whole, back on track.”
With recovery of the three million jobs lost and “removing that friction at the border, I’m confident we’ll see many more American and UK tourists this summer, and that they will remember what Canada was like, and they’ll come back.”
The government will also work with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada as well as hotels and restaurant associations to rebuild the sector.
“I want to make sure that we balance out what we need with immigration, with newcomers coming to Canada, with Indigenous people we want to bring to the workforce,” Boissonnault added.
Boissonnault said the federal government would bring 1.3 million newcomers into Canada over the next three years, and they would work with their provincial counterparts and post-secondaries to address the disparity between skilled and unskilled labour in the tourism sector.
“People can see what skill they actually have. It demonstrates that people in the tourism sector (work in) skilled trades, and they’re skilled people. Those credentials, those skills, are portable in whatever else you might want to do in the sector. I don’t want somebody coming to Canada and feeling like they’ve got to be at an entry-level job for their whole life. That’s not the point. Come in, learn that, but then have mobility throughout the system.”
Boissonnault recalled a Jasperite he met who started as a chef and now owns a business in town and is an investor in the community.
“That’s from the ’70s. So, where’s our 2022 examples of that from Canada? Indigenous chefs that can be the owner of an inn someday, but also the newcomers that are coming. Whether they come here from Afghanistan, or Ukraine, or wherever in the world, we want them to be part of the tourism eco-system.”
Boissonnault added how the tourism sector also knows that it was having this labour issue before 2019 and the issue of the employee value proposition, such as making a living wage, getting adequate time off or having mobility in their career.
“I will say I know there’s a labour shortage issue, but I also think it’s about connecting the people that want to find work with the jobs that are out there. It’s an issue that’s going to take a lot of heavy lifting and the ability for us to address it through many solutions.”
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