While the discussion and debate was great, the actions taken by this government hinder rather than help this vital sector. To learn on Budget Day that the Minister of Culture and Tourism would be eliminating the Alberta Strategic Tourism Council was a profound disappointment to me. During my time as Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, I was very fortunate to witness the passion and dedication of these hard working professionals. Their expertise and talent was evident in the long-term strategic frameworks that they developed in partnership with government, industry and stakeholders – frameworks that achieved great strides in growing our tourism industry and contributing to the diversification of our economy. In the 2015 budget, it appears that the government has decided to pass on these strategies, despite their value and positive impact.
As was enthusiastically expressed by all parties in the Legislature, the tourism sector hold great potential for further diversifying our economy. Thousands of jobs are created across the province, and for every public dollar spent on tourism, over $19 in revenue to the province is generated in return. It had been one of the most self-sustaining sectors of the Alberta economy. Until the 2015 budget, the tourism department was entirely funded through the 4% levy charged on overnight accommodations like hotels and motels. This unique model (which has been copied by many other provinces) meant that our tourism industry was funded without any taxpayer support. So it was extremely disappointing to see this government take revenue from the Tourism Levy and funnel it directly into the government’s general revenue.
Since taking power, the NDP has shown us through these and other actions that tourism is not a priority for their government. Their decisions to abolish the Strategic Tourism Council, to dismiss the work and vision of industry experts and to take away the ability of the industry to fund its own activities and generate savings for taxpayers make this clear. If given the opportunity and the support, tourism would continue to provide untold benefits to Albertans. However, if this government continues on the course that it is on, they risk inflicting great harm on one of the most successful industries in Alberta, aside from oil and gas. The Progressive Conservatives will continue pushing this government to do what is necessary to support this vital sector of our economy.