Sioux Lookout mayor continuing tourist industry advocacy with letter to Minister responsible for FedNor
Tim Brody - Editor
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance is continuing his advocacy for the local tourism industry.
Lawrance was given the opportunity to be part of the virtual announcement of over $4 million to help communities attract business and investment, as well as create jobs in Northern Ontario on August 21.
The announcement was made by Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for FedNor.
“Part of being given that opportunity, I was also informed that the minister would like to talk to me before the virtual announcement and just have a one on one telephone conversation,” Lawrance explained.
In addition to speaking with Lawrance about the announcement, through which The Municipality of Sioux Lookout received $975,000 to complete infrastructure enhancements, including the extension of municipal water and wastewater services to the Bigwood Lake and the North Airport Commercial Development sites, Lawrance said the minister wanted to discuss, “What’s going on in Sioux Lookout.”
“I chose to highlight this particular issue (the plight of the local tourism sector) with the minister because it was a chance to talk to the federal government,” Lawrance said. “I’m not advocating to open the borders to the US by any means, (but) they need to know the impacts of the closures. Specifically locally this segment of our business sector, the tourism sector here, relies almost completely, I’m told 95 per cent and I believe it, on the American market, which is lost and can’t be replaced by a market from Southern Ontario or Manitoba. There’s reasons why those markets will go elsewhere. There’s no magic to recreate it. These businesses are in financial trouble and need to have some form of assistance from I think both federal and provincial (governments).”
Lawrance has followed up that conversation with a letter from his office, dated August 28, to Joly, in which he reiterates and expands upon points they discussed.
“Once you give them (ministers) these opportunities, once the door is open a crack, you want to make sure you put your foot in and your head in,” Lawrance remarked. He added, “That opens up the possibility that maybe I’ll be contacted by the minister’s office or it opens up the allowance for us to follow up on our letter now, so to keep hammering the points home.”
A copy of that letter is available on The Municipality of Sioux Lookout’s website.
The points Lawrance shared with the minister are that:
1. Tourist outfitters expenditures are down which means that money normally spent through 58 area businesses, is missing from the economy of Sioux Lookout.
2. Tourist outfitters have fixed operating costs which must be paid whether or not they have income: insurance, property taxes, hydro, telephone, bank fees, automobile loans, long term debt and more. No leniency is being given on these payments.
3. During the winter months marketing expenses were incurred anticipating that revenues from the 2020 season would cover the expenses, they will not.
4. This winter outfitters spent money to do upgrades to cabins, lodge facilities and marine equipment anticipating income from this season which did not flow.
5. Not being open to the U.S. marketplace has decimated the revenues for the 25 Sioux Lookout area tourism businesses this year. The significant employment and the significant expenditures to supporting businesses did not happen this year.
Lawrance went on to point out in his letter that:
1. Some of the Lodges/Outfitters are new owners that have substantial loans from financial institutions and are fearful that they may lose their investments to the bank if they are unable to continue to make debt payments, not to mention the fixed costs like utilities, insurance, property taxes.
2. Many American Tourists are not willing to give up their reservations in hopes of the borders opening for Fall hunting season, leaving Tourist Operators in a situation whereby they are afraid to lose their secured and repeat clientele from the U.S. in favour of getting the odd reservation from a Canadian first time client that may not come back.
3. Our Lodge and Outfitters have advised that some of their clientele from the U.S. have indicated that if and when the borders open, they are not sure if they would be willing to travel fearing no health insurance coverage if they were to contract the virus. In addition, some of the U.S. clientele have indicated that they may be required to self-isolate upon return which would put a burden on their allotted vacation time.
4. Tourist business owners have indicated that they may not be able to ensure property tax payments as a result of the impact that COVID has had on their businesses.
5. There is no magic that can create this tourist market to come to the Sioux Lookout outfitters from another area.
Lawrance clarified, “The points here are informed by conversations our Economic Development Officer’s had with the tourism sector and correspondence from them, so this is really informed by input from the sector here in Sioux Lookout.”
Lawrance commented, “It’s so difficult because the market for this year is gone. The year is gone. Retail stores opened up again, etcetera, but these businesses, their business is gone. Their season is finished and the likelihood that it’s gone next year – we don’t know.”
The Municipality also had an opportunity to present to the provincial Standing Committee on Finances and Economic Affairs approximately a month ago, “This was essentially very similar material that we presented there, so we’re knocking on the provincial doors and the federal doors and we’ll do it again,” Lawrance concluded.
In his weekly column, Kenora MP Eric Melillo shared that he also continues to advocate for the tourism industry.
“The tourism industry is a huge economic contributor to northern Ontario, but local operators have been hit hard by this pandemic and the ongoing border closure,” he shared.
He is encouraging people to sign a petition he has sponsored, which was created by Temple Bay Lodge owner Jeff Moreau, calling on the Government of Canada to provide direct financial relief to tourism operators.
People can read and sign the petition at https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-2737.
The petition closes on November 11.