Weston defends Conservative record on tourism

Image courtesy of John Weston's office. He is pictured second from right.

At the suggestion of my editor, I interviewed West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky MP John Weston on Saturday and asked why the federal government is putting up so many barriers to tourism.

Among other things he mentioned the requirement that Mexican tourists apply for visas to visit here; the lack of an HST rebate for tourists, which the Tories turfed when they came into office; and nearly levelling a major fee on a second Seattle-Vancouver Amtrak Cascades line that generates millions in economic activity for Vancouver.

Also quoted in the story was Daniel Veniez, the Liberal candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky in the next election. I should note, for the sake of transparency, that he was deeply unhappy with what I wrote. Among other things, he didn’t like that I didn’t report on a news release he issued earlier this month, in which he called on the government to do something about the Seattle-Vancouver Amtrak. It’s clearly an issue into which he’s put a lot of effort.

You be the judge. Did I do enough work on this story? Could/should I have gone deeper?

Conservatives changed course on second Amtrak train this week

by Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine

October 21, 2010

MP John Weston says he was one of the people who urged his government to keep the second daily Amtrak train between Vancouver and Seattle alive.

Last week the Conservatives announced that they would cover the Canadian Border Services Agency annual fee of $550,000 for border clearance services on the train. The Oct. 14 decision came after the opposition Liberal Party held a press conference earlier in the day promising that a Liberal government would provide funding for the service.

The Conservatives announced a one-year reprieve.

Weston, in Whistler last weekend with a Chinese delegation, was asked about the Amtrak funding and other government policies that seem to limit tourism, including requiring Mexican tourists to obtain visas and the lack of a HST rebate for foreign tourists.

“Measured against perfection, government is failing,” Weston responded. “The Amtrak thing, I was part of a group of MPs that sent a letter to the Prime Minister, saying we’ve got to keep that alive.

“I would say that we’re always looking to do better if we’re not doing our job, but I think this is a government that’s proven it’s listening to Whistler.”

Daniel Veniez, the Liberal candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, said he was happy the Conservative government agreed to fund the border service and keep the second Amtrak train going but he had harsh words for its approach to tourism.

“What approach to tourism?” he asked. “It’s not an approach to tourism, it’s an approach to our relationships with other countries. It’s a matter of economic strategy, it’s a matter of competent management of government in our constituency.

“I don’t get it, but the lack of strategy, the lack of attention on an industry that is not only a high growth but is the fundamental to the economic future of the province, the lack of attention from the feds is embarrassing.”

The second daily Amtrak train between Seattle and Vancouver began as a pilot project prior to the 2010 Olympics. It was scheduled to run until the end of March. The Canadian Border Services Agency later agreed to extend the train to the end of October. The governments of Washington and British Columbia put up millions to make it happen.

Issues around the train flared up in September when Washington State said CBSA would charge it nearly $550,000 a year for border-clearance services. That would have added up to about $1,500 a day.

The fee, which was to be levelled starting Nov. 1, would have required Amtrak to charge an extra $20 a ticket, thus rendering the service uncompetitive.

Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Oct. 8, stating that the CBSA fee would “kill the second train.”

“We cannot ask Washington travelers to pay a higher ticket price to cover this border clearance fee, when no Washington or United States fee is charged to travelers coming from Canada, and Washington State currently pays all of the operational expense of the train,” Gregoire wrote.

“We cannot understand why you would risk the obvious and significant economic benefits for your country and ours, the British Columbia Province, and our state, during these times of fragile economic recovery.”

The Governor went on to say that she’d brought up the issue with Janet Napolitano, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, as well as Premier Gordon Campbell and Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer.

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About jesseferreras

Sea to Sky-based journalist. Snowboarder, cyclist, cinephile, bon vivant.
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