ALLISTON, Ont. — The Hon. Blake Richards, MP Banff Airdrie, travelled from Alberta to address the Ontario Restaurant and Hotel Motel Association's 20th AGM, held at the Nottawasaga Inn on June 19. Richards had lots to say about the industry's biggest headache, skilled labour shortages. His riding, in particular, has problems as its unemployment numbers are lumped into a large area that also includes oilfields communities.
Richards, who is the federal Conservatives' shadow cabinet minister responsible for small business, export promotion and tourism, reflected on how things have changed in the 20 years since ORHMA was formed. “Back in 1999, the movies of the year were The Green Mile and Blair Witch Project, and we listened to Britney Spears' Hit Me Baby One More Time.”
He also stressed the importance of tourism to the Canadian economy, noting that it accounts for 1.8 million jobs and accounts for 2 per cent of Canada's GDP, contributing $100 billion to the country's economy. “It accounts for 17 per cent of all businesses in Ontario. And hospitality is the gateway to all tourism.”
Hospitality businesses face challenges including taxation rules for small and medium-sized businesses, regulatory changes, short-term rentals and wage increases that make it hard to focus on doing business. “Hotels and motels are the glue that holds all the tourism pillars together, from the grand railway hotels to quaint, homestyle hotels.
While Richards acknowledged that all these things are challenging, he said the biggest challenge is labour issues.
“I represent Banff, so I am familiar with this. Ten per cent of all tourism jobs are sitting vacant, and two thirds of all tourism businesses are facing this problem,” Richards said. “The industry is doing all it can do to attract Canadians, but temporary foreign workers are part of filling those positions.”
The program has costs and delays, but one of the biggest concerns is that their criteria are based on unemployment statistics for vast economic regions, that don't represent the realities and make resorts ineligible. “In the title, they call it a temporary program, but it's not a temporary problem; it's a permanent problem.”
Resort areas, Banff and Canmore, are part of a huge region. “You can drive for three or four hours and still be in that region,” said Richards. “Some communities in the region are completely oil and gas based — a no one from those communities is going to drive three or four hours to work in Banff or Canmore.
“People come to Canada because of what we offer — and they keep coming back because of the people they interact with. You and your employees are the front line.”