Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be easy, but North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold said the region’s tourism sector is a key component to a rapid bounce back.
Easing travel restrictions and returning international travellers to the North Okanagan and Shuswap’s “year-round playground,” will bring support for small businesses, Arnold said during the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce’s Official Opposition Town Hall March 3.
Hosted by general manager Dan Proulx, Arnold and Shadow Cabinet Minister of Small Business Pat Kelly, of Calgary, answered questions posed by chamber members on the topic of economic recovery for small businesses, among others.
“Rather than focusing on the challenges, we should focus on the opportunities,” Arnold said in regards to business recovery. “If we can get the travel restrictions lifted and the people moving about… that will feed small business.”
To bolster recovery, Kelly said the Official Opposition has pleaded for no new taxes to be implemented on Canadians amid these tumultuous times.
Kelly pointed to the excise tax on alcohol: “We begged the government to back off on increased taxes on alcohol.”
After giving kudos to Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery for its immediate response to the country’s hand sanitizer shortage at the pandemic’s start, Arnold said the tax puts Canada at a 10-to-one disadvantage to the United States and “the rationale behind it hasn’t been clear why it’s put on there so heavily.”
By achieving a tax parity between Canada and the U.S., Arnold said the benefits would not only grow distillery and brewery industry opportunities but also the agricultural sector that supplies the industry.
“Our party has just recently put forward a motion in the House to form a Canada-U.S. Economic Committee that would look at all aspects of trade-relations activity,” Arnold said.
Boosting tourism and limiting taxation will help businesses recover from the effects of COVID-19 and associated restrictions, but Arnold said his concern lingers around the debt some may have taken on to stay afloat.
When asked how he sees the country recovering from debt, he said that’s a challenging question.
“It’s been a challenge for us to hold them (Liberal government) accountable,” Arnold said, pointing to the $400-billion deficit.
“We certainly supported getting programs out to help support people and businesses survive this pandemic,” Arnold said, noting the “least painful way out of this” is to increase economic growth without cutting programming.
Kelly agreed, stating “right now is not the time to embark on large, permanent expenditure programs.
“We need to get people back to work, get the economy to grow to restore the large part of our GDP that disappeared in the pandemic.”