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White Rock officials question if tourism relief will come soon enough

For business, budget ‘feels more like a placeholder,’ says chamber head
It remains to be seen how tourism dollars announced this week will help in White Rock. (Tracy Holmes file photo)

Tuesday’s provincial budget offers little for small business in the long-term, and fails to answer questions about when help might arrive for those in the struggling tourism industry, say city and business officials on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.

In a brief statement Tuesday afternoon, South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna said she couldn’t yet comment extensively on local implications of the budget, but that in general, measures that were announced “feels more like a placeholder to get us through this resiliency phase of the pandemic.”

“It’s not long-term thinking nor a long-term vision in this budget,” she said. “But we’re digging into it a little bit more.”

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson on Tuesday laid out the NDP government’s three-year budget, calling for $19 billion in borrowing – on top of the current COVID-19-driven deficit of $8.1 billion – to build up the health care system and carry on support programs for individuals and businesses.

READ MORE: B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Robinson said contingency plans are in place to extend support for businesses who found out last week that travel, dining and indoor fitness are restricted for another five weeks, until after the May long weekend.

A “circuit breaker” grant was announced after the initial restrictions were put in place last month. It offered grants of up to $10,000 each to assist 14,000 restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, gyms and fitness centres.

“We are continuing to identify how to best meet the needs of those particular businesses, and there will be more to say in the days ahead around that,” Robinson told reporters April 20.

In Monday’s federal budget, meanwhile, officials extended Ottawa’s COVID-19 “lifeline” for workers and struggling businesses for another few months, as part of more than $100 billion in new spending over the next three years that’s also targeting seniors, caregivers and parents.

“This budget is about finishing the fight against COVID,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in her budget-day speech. “It’s about healing the economic wounds left by the COVID recession. And it’s about creating more jobs and prosperity for Canadians in the days and decades to come.”

Freeland said her plan focuses on some of the hardest-hit sectors, including tourism, as well as low-wage workers, small- and medium-sized businesses, women and young people.

READ MORE: Federal Budget 2021: Liberals extend COVID-19 aid with election top of mind

Help in the tourism sector was a key budget hope for White Rock, the city’s recreation and culture director said, given that tourism is the city’s “number-one biggest industry.”

But while Eric Stepura said any announcement at the federal or provincial level of financial assistance targeting the industry is “a very good thing,” the concern with promises shared this week – including that of $100 million over three years to support tourism recovery, plus another $20 million for community destination development grants – is “will it be soon enough for some of the businesses that are really struggling?”

“As COVID continues to go on, there’s no real sort of end in sight,” Stepura said Wednesday. “Everybody’s hopeful that things will be better by the summer or the fall, but the sooner that they can get funding in the hands of the local industries – like I say, the attractions and restaurants that are really suffering due to the various restrictions on gatherings and the numbers of people that are allowed in restaurants and things like that – the better.”

White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Alex Nixon said while there was some optimism out of the federal budget for business overall, he didn’t see anything “groundbreaking” from the provincial side.

With regard to tourism funding, Nixon said it remains to be seen how those dollars will be allocated, who will be eligible to apply for them and how they will support tourism recovery.

“White Rock’s a tourist economy, we’re a very small town that’s part of a very large region. We’ve been heavily impacted by COVID, and how those dollars are allocated, and how they can be accessed and by whom can they be accessed will be really crucial… because that can really impact how much those dollars go to the people that need it and the businesses that need it.”

– with files from Canadian Press and Tom Fletcher

It remains to be seen how tourism dollars announced this week will help in White Rock. (Aaron Hinks file photo)

Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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