Ottawa tourism officials plead for reopening plan before federal election

Parliament Hill is seen in this photo taken on May 26, 2021. (Photo by CTV News' Jeff Denesyk)

Leaders in Ottawa’s travel and tourism sector are pleading with the federal government for a plan to reopen the Canada-U.S. border before an election is called.

The request comes as election speculation ramps up and businesses reliant on tourism face the possibility of another summer with a fraction of their normal revenue.

“We’re very much concerned that when we get into an election, governments tend to shut down and they don’t want to make decisions that are profound during the course an election campaign,” Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, told a news conference Thursday.

“That’s why it’s very important that we get clarity now in terms of what the plan is. … Local businesses, particularly those in the travel and tourism sector, can’t afford more delay.”

Tourism officials are asking for a comprehensive reopening plan before Canadians head to the polls.

In a normal year, Ottawa's tourism sector generates $2.2 billion in revenue. Last year, $1.4 billion was lost to COVID-19.

The summer travel season is a crucial time of year for the sector. Canada’s tourism industry gets 80 per cent of its revenue from the beginning of July through Labour Day.

“Ottawa is one of the most vaccinated places in the world, but our lockdown rules remain the strictest in North America,” said Sueling Ching, president of the Ottawa Board of Trade. “This simply does not make sense, and it is untenable when Ottawa businesses are struggling to keep the lights on.

“Foreign travel fuels Ottawa’s economy in the summer, but the tap remains completely turned off,” she added.

More than 80 per cent of Ottawa residents 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 shot. Forty-five per cent are fully vaccinated.

Some border restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians loosened on Monday, but the timeline of a broader reopening plan is unclear.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not commit when asked whether travel between Canada and the U.S. will resume after July 21. He said the government would continue to work with provinces and the White House, and Canadians’ safety is the top priority.

But tourism industry advocates say the longer there is uncertainty, the more businesses will be forced to close.

Joe Kowalski, who owns Wilderness Tours in the Ottawa Valley, says his the business lost $7 million last year.

“It will take us years to recover,” he said. “But at least we’re still in business. Many of our colleagues, operating business for decades, are now out of business, and they will probably never open.”

Kowalski also criticized the provincial government’s reopening process.

“What's been frustrating and infuriating is being on the government regulated yo-yo, not knowing if you're going to be open when you're going to be open,” he said. “And they would make these decisions on a Thursday to open it Friday at midnight.

"The people that are making these decisions do not have a clue how the real world works.”