$18 million invested in northern Ontario economy: Lisa MacLeod

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ontario’s Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod and Ontario’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford held a telephone town hall meeting to update northern Ontario residents on the measures taken to alleviate the sweeping effects COVID-19 had on the tourism industry.

In this call, MacLeod announced that the ministry is investing $18 million in northern Ontario. The funding dedicated to Regional Tourism Organization (RTO) funding for 12 and 13 will be $5 million. Region 12 includes Algonquin Park, Muskoka and Parry Sound. Region 13 includes northeastern Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie and northwest Ontario.

“We were hit first and hardest and we will be the sectors that will take the longest to recover,” MacLeod said. “We have been able to engage with everyone over seven telephone townhalls. This week’s call is dedicated to northern Ontario. That’s because I have had the opportunity to travel across Ontario in Phase 2 and I have not been able to get to get to the northern Ontario communities, but that will come and we are working together right now to make that happen.”

The Ontario Arts Council will also be investing $274,000 in northern Ontario and the Ontario Trillium Foundation will be investing $8.2 million in northern Ontario. MacLeod will be investing $350,000 into the RTO marketing budget and Indigenous Tourism of Ontario will receive $100,000 to support marketing efforts as well.

Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, facilitated the call and said there will be a special focus on northern Ontario and northern tourism issues because they have been hit the hardest.

Rickford said for people that are involved in tourist camps and lodge operators, he does not think there is a group out there that have seen a more devastating impact.

“This is particularly because many of camp operators’ clientele are American and clearly as time marches on, that becomes a more distant and difficult prospect to consider. So as part of what we are doing in the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, is looking at the kind of help that can make a difference,” Rickford said.

There were about 300 individuals on the call, most of which are stakeholders and small business owners from throughout the province of Ontario that joined to ask their questions and listen to remarks by MacLeod and Rickford.

“I am going to continue to travel across Ontario,” MacLeod said. “I wrap up Phase 2 this week and my hope is when we move into Phase 3, I will be able to visit the north over a period of weeks. In addition, I am working with the Minster of Municipal Affairs and Housing on tourism in our border community and we will have more to say about that as we move forward.”

MacLeod said the province of Ontario has been dealing with a triple threat: the public health crisis, the economic crisis that happened as a result and finally, the social impact.

“I have been touring across the province to make sure that people see that when we open this Phase 2 in different parts of the province, that it is safe to take in some of our cultural and tourism attractions and that it is safe to stay in a hotel or sit in a local patio,” MacLeod said.

MacLeod said since 2021 will be a marking year for Canadians, she has instructed ministers to start planning for a calendar year that will include Ontarians moving around when it is safe to do so.

“We are looking at targeted investments at that time in order to support people coming together and gathering once again. As interprovincial borders start to reopen and those restrictions are eased we will be looking at more domestic staycations from around Canada and we will shift marketing dollars that way,” MacLeod said.

“We expect air travel to get back to normal around 2022 or 2023 and at that time we will have a full-scale marketing campaign internationally. I know these have been especially difficult times for many people and I would like to sat thank you for your patience and dedication.”

Many of those on the call were lodge owners and camp operators, most of which are dependent on American clientele to carry the tourism industry in northwestern Ontario forward.

So far, the border closure is extended until Jul. 21, and there are no indications from the federal government on possible extension of the shut down.

Rickford said he does not see the border opening for that kind of tourism activity for the time to come. Upon his consultations with camp owners, Rickford said most of them are looking for a clear timeline on when border restrictions will be lifted.

“If it is not going to be until fall, tell us now. Why wait until Jul. 21? So far, the government demonstrated an inability to be clear for some of the things the province needs to do,” Rickford said.

“The challenges we face are very obvious to us. There were 50,000 new positive cases in the United States. Two Americans were allowed to cross to Fort Frances because they are residents in Canada, with a summer residence. They promised to go directly and quarantine for 14 days. They were then spotted at a half dozen places in Fort Frances and turned the town upside down. The approach Americans are taking has been entirely less disciplined. Some of these businesses will face serious challenges to survive.”