Last month I embarked on a road tour of one of my favourite parts of BC – the Thompson Okanagan! I wanted to hear people’s thoughts on my portfolio subjects: small business, Asia-Pacific opportunities, Western Economic Diversification, and that very-important rural job creator – tourism. Especially, I wanted to meet and hear from local Liberals.
With my assistant Carla at the wheel we certainly did just that! Arriving for a Wednesday evening meeting in Osoyoos where I was a keynote speaker at the first-ever National Aboriginal Tourism Conference, through Oliver, Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops, we fit in 15 meetings with groups large and small over the next three days.
In each community we invited local government, business and tourism leaders to a consultation session, which helped me understand the concerns in these important rural towns and cities. With a jobless recovery in Canada and still-high unemployment rates, the meetings identified a number of areas where federal leadership is lacking: predictability of infrastructure funding, better access to skilled labour, more focus on small business challenges, partnering in regional tourism promotion, and strategies for housing and childcare affordability so that young families can afford to stay in the region rather than move to bigger cities – or the oil patch.
I was pleased at the meetings’ attendance and the chance to share the Liberal record and vision for jobs and small business.
Small businesses are the engines of Canada’s economy accounting for about half of all new jobs, and we need them to thrive. But in the Interior and my riding of Vancouver Quadra alike many are struggling. A recent Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey revealed that business confidence in BC is well below the national average, and slipped from 64.9 to 63.8 (on a scale of 100) in just one month. Only 49% of BC business owners were optimistic about the state of their business. The Conservatives’ income tax breaks (22% reduced to 15%) for large corporations do nothing for small businesses.
Unfortunately the government’s 2012 Federal Budget doesn’t help: it increases business EI payroll taxes for the second year in a row, cuts $30 million from the fund that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs in Western Canada, and reduces by 20% the program for marketing Canadian tourism highlights to the world.
Carla and I had a chance to share chicken wings, sip delicious Okanagan wine, and talk politics and policy with dedicated Liberals in five ridings in the Interior and Thompson Okanagan. I do want to underline the importance of the efforts, resources and creativity contributed by the EDA executives in each of these ridings, and their successes in engaging youth. This work is fundamental to rebuilding the Liberal Party of Canada in this region and nationally. And in turn, I am passing on their requests for better links between the EDA executives and members – and the activities and tours being organized centrally.
Every riding is vital to the renewal of the Liberal Party in BC, and on these tours I am reminded of all the Liberals have to offer rural communities and families, and vice versa!
Thanks to all who gave me such a warm welcome, and helped make my visits enjoyable and productive by connecting me with your local community members. This was my third rural consultation tour in twelve months, and I plan to do more! As always, I welcome your feedback and ideas about my portfolio and the rebuilding of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Joyce Murray, MP