N.B. Green Party MLAs raise concerns over tourism cuts

N.B. Green Party MLAs — Megan Mitton, left, David Coon, centre, and Kevin Arseneau — answer questions from Monctonians at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre Monday.Flavio NienowN.B. Green Party MLAs raise concerns over tourism cutsN.B. Green Party MLAs — Megan Mitton, left, David Coon, centre, and Kevin Arseneau — answer questions from Monctonians at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre Monday. Jun:3

Flavio Nienow | Times & Transcript

David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, said that, when it comes to tourism, the provincial government is “out of sync” with New Brunswickers.

“People want to see tourism properly supported in this province,” the Fredericton South MLA told a crowd of about 70 people in Moncton Monday. “Everyone knows, in every corner of this province, that this is vital to the local economies and that the potential is far larger than what exists now.”

In March, the province slashed the tourism budget by 37 per cent, dropping it from $20.2 million to $12.8 million. 

“This is what happens when you have a focus that is so deeply embedded in a spreadsheet,” said Coon, referring to the cuts. “You lose track of what people are looking for, and what we need in our communities.”

The N.B. Green Party’s bilingual Q&A, held at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre, included two other MLAs — Megan Mitton, MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, and Kevin Arseneau, MLA for Kent North.

Mitton said her riding, which includes Murray Beach Provincial Park and the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre, has been “significantly impacted” by the cuts to the tourism department’s budget.

The province plans to privatize the operation of Murray Beach Provincial Park, located in the southeastern corner of the province, beginning in 2020.

The Cape Jourimain Nature Centre, a popular tourist attraction next to the Confederation Bridge, will have to make ends meet this year without annual funding of $50,000 from the province. The centre was notified of the cut on May 13, less than three weeks before the centre opened for the season.

“My riding is the gateway to P.E.I., Nova Scotia and it depends heavily on tourism,” said Mitton. “Investing in supporting tourism is part of the economy. It’s a good idea and you get a good return on investment.”

Tourism visitor spending in New Brunswick was estimated at $1.3 billion in 2018, according to the provincial government.

Arseneau said many areas of the province have unrealized tourism potential.

Stéphanie Bilodeau, a spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, told the Times & Transcript last week that the department had to make “difficult, yet strategic” decisions as part of the 2019-20 budget to ensure “investments are made where they are the most impactful.”

With regard to Cape Jourimain Nature Centre, Bilodeau said the province is still supporting the park in other ways.

“While the department made the decision to no longer provide $50,000 for the organization’s annual operating costs, staff can offer advice on product and experience development, as well as marketing initiatives to support the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre,” said Bilodeau.

With regard to the privatization of Murray Beach Provincial Park’s operation, Bilodeau said the department is “always looking at park operations to identify the most cost-effective operating model,” adding the park will continue to hold provincial park status and must comply with policies and guidelines outlined through the province’s Parks Act.

Robert Gauvin, the province’s tourism minister, said Wednesday that N.B.’s tourism guide — the thick, glossy guide full of colourful photos and points of interest — would likely not be published next year, arguing the $625,000 it costs to create, print and distribute it would be better spent promoting New Brunswick via the Internet and on smartphone apps.

Other topics discussed during Monday’s Q&A included how to address climate change, an online petition asking the federal Green Party and New Democratic Party to join forces, and how to create jobs in the renewable sector.

— With files from John Chilibeck & Katrina Clarke