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Nov. 25, 2020 | Wednesday
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Budget's tourism plan not enough, Gates says
Wayne Gates. (File photo/Richard Harley)

New Democrat says his own idea, introduced in July, is a more effective way of helping tourist sector

The Ford government's budget proposal for a tourism tax credit to encourage Ontario residents to visit different areas of the province is a good start, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, says Niagara MPP Wayne Gates.

Calling 2021 "the year of the staycation," the new provincial budget unveiled last week said the government is "exploring" ways to give people a credit for up to 20 per cent of "eligible Ontario tourism expenses."

That mirrors Gates' own private member's bill introduced in July – except the New Democrat MPP's plan calls for a flat $1,000 tax credit to encourage  families to travel in Ontario.

With the Tories' proposed 20 per cent tax credit, "to get what is in my bill you'd have to spend $5,000. A lot of people that are taking day vacations or staycations, they don't have $5,000 to spend," Gates said in an interview Tuesday.

It would be better to implement his plan and give people an incentive to travel domestically to help boost the tourism sector in all areas of the province, including Niagara, Gates said.

He said he will encourage Finance Minister Rod Phillips to alter the budget plan and adopt the $1,000 tax credit instead.

"I have a better way to do this, to get the money into more people's hands, get more people being able to travel domestically, to enjoy Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, and Ottawa, go up north, or Toronto," he said.

"I think it's a better way, a more affordable way to have a staycation and help get our tourism sector back on its feet and create jobs."

Tourism NOTL and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce "strongly welcomes" the province's proposal designed to support the tourism and hospitality industry, said CEO Eduardo Lafforgue.

"Supporting local tourism is the key to economic recovery in the months ahead," he told The Lake Report.

"We are delighted to see the government announce their intention to implement a travel tax credit for Ontarians to re-explore the 'world in one province' that is Ontario," Lafforgue added.

The idea was "a key pillar of the recommendations to the government that we have supported and been advocating through the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario as part of the budget consultation process."

Small- and medium-sized enterprises need support, and "the government’s decision to make permanent COVID-era exemptions from the employer health tax on the first $1 million of a payroll" is a big help, he said.

Tourism is an integral part of Niagara-on-the-Lake's economic recovery and the provincial measures will help keep businesses open and save jobs – and "safeguard the livelihoods of many of NOTL businesses," Lafforgue said.

Gates, whose riding comprises NOTL, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, said he hopes to hear "in the next few weeks" that the province is going to implement protection against "insurance rate gouging" for small- and medium-sized business.

Some businesses in Niagara-on-the-Lake and across the riding have seen their insurance premiums go from $6,000 to more than $20,000, he said.

"That's nothing more than gouging and we have to fix that or we're going to lose more small businesses," Gates said.

He also was disappointed the budget didn't eliminate the 6.1 per cent basic tax charged on domestic wine. 

Gates has introduced a bill to have that levy removed and the wine industry also has been lobbying the province to eliminate the tax.

It puts small- to medium-sized wineries at "an incredible disadvantage," said Gates, adding he will keep pushing to have the tax dropped.

"Our grape and wine industry is so important to Niagara and to the overall health of the economy in the province of Ontario," he said.

"It makes no sense to give an advantage to international wines over locally grown wines."

Meanwhile, on Tuesday he also was part of an announcement by NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who unveiled the Homes in Ontario program, which would loan first-time buyers up to 10 per cent of the cost of a new home as part of their downpayment.

Gates and Horwath noted that housing prices in Niagara "have skyrocketed by between 85 and 100 per cent in just five years," putting home ownership out of reach for many first-time buyers.

It has also made rents unaffordable for many people, Gates said.

"They have a tent city in St. Catharines. We have a tent city in Niagara Falls," something that would be unheard of a few years ago, he said.

"The number of people that are going to bed hungry at night, the number of people living on the street, keeps increasing and obviously, with the number of people that are going to be facing unemployment this winter, it's going to even be worse," he said.

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