Annual General Meeting of Attractions Ontario
Ted Arnott spoke on April 20, 2011, at the Annual General Meeting of Attractions Ontario. The
following is the text of his remarks:
Thank you for your kind introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a privilege to be with you here today at your Annual General
I want to offer special thanks to your president, Troy Young. He has proven himself a strong
and capable advocate for Ontario tourism.
I can assure you that Troy is highly regarded at Queen’s Park among MPPs on all sides of the
House. He does a great job on your behalf.
Good leadership is so important these days. In the business world, it can literally mean the
difference between profit and loss; success and failure.
It’s especially important in this time of significant economic challenge, which affects all sectors
of the economy but tourism and hospitality most acutely. We all know that as families’
discretionary income shrinks, they may scale back their holiday plans. As companies cut costs,
they may scale back business travel.
This is why we need every Minister, every MPP, and every public servant to appreciate the
tourism sector for what it is — absolutely vital to Ontario’s economy.
It’s vital not only to your own businesses and livelihoods, but also to the thousands upon
thousands of Ontario families and students whose jobs depend on it.
As the economy continues to recover, as it will, we need to take this message to the decision
makers at Queen’s Park, loudly and boldly. Now is not the time to be shy about our collective
This year as we approach those critical summer months, we need to do everything we can,
business owners and governments alike, to ensure that Ontario takes full advantage of every
possible tourism opportunity.
At Queen’s Park we often hear a lot of numbers from people trying to illustrate a point. But one
that I believe to be true has never left my mind.
Coming out of a downturn, up to 80 percent of the new jobs created are in small business—that
most innovative, dynamic and spirited sector of our economy.
Governments of every level and every political stripe need to understand this, as well as the fact
that every big business started small, most with only the ambition and vision of a single
entrepreneur who often risked every cent he or she had and could borrow to get started.
We should not need to remind government that the economy cannot be taken for granted, that
economic growth is not a given, that government policy must support growth, and that it is only
through a strong and growing economy that sustained investments can be made in the services
we all value, like health, our publicly-funded schools, safe communities, a cleaner natural
environment, and so on.
In the tourism sector as in so many others, you have to deal with government regulation and red
tape, knowing that every hour they spend dealing with government is an hour you can’t spend
looking after customers or finding new ones.
That’s why the government must always be a partner, never an impediment, to your business.
I know that Tim Hudak, the leader of our PC Caucus, understands this. As a former highly
respected Minister of Tourism, Tim Hudak understands that the Ministry of tourism must, first
and foremost, be considered an economic ministry.
We look ahead to October 6 with hope and optimism. And increasingly people are asking what
will be in the PC election platform. I think it’s important to point out that none of Ontario’s major
political parties have yet released their election platform.
The provincial election is still six months away.
Our platform, like those of the other parties, will be released in due course, I’m sure in time for
every voter who wants to read them, to do so.
I also expect it will include recognition of the need to ease pocketbook concerns of families
we’re hearing from in communities across the province. I’m also confident it will address many
of the concerns we’re hearing from small businesses, including those in your industry.
Because we know that you, not the government, are in the best position to create jobs and grow
If we have the privilege of forming the next government, I expect we would review as much as
possible, as all new governments tend to do, only with a Progressive Conservative eye to
saving money and taming the deficit.
At the same time, I’ve always viewed government spending on tourism to be investment, not an
expense. Done right, it generates more income, benefiting the tourism sector, bolstering the
provincial Treasury, and strengthening our communities.
Since I became the PC Critic to the Minister of Tourism, I’ve been pleased to meet with
Attractions Ontario and many others in the industry.
A few themes have emerged:
Stakeholders are telling us that the HST is still negatively affecting some areas of the tourism
industry, which were previously not subject to the full provincial sales tax. As we all know, the
HST has eliminated that 3 percent tax room that allowed for Destination Marketing Fees in
The government’s proposed replacement, the Regional Tourism Levies, have proven to be
highly controversial. The accommodations industry is faced with a choice: whether or not to add
a levy of up to three percent on top of the 13-percent HST.
We all agree that we need to market Ontario as the premiere tourism destinations that it is. But
a tax of up to 16 percent would make Ontario among the most expensive jurisdictions in North
America. This concerns us as I know it concerns many of you.
When the Government made the policy decision to adopt the HST, they knew it would hammer
tourism. They did it anyway, even though they should have left well enough alone.
Let me say again: tourism needs to be recognized as the vital economic contributor that it is. It
should be part of the government’s economic growth strategy, acknowledged as part of an
industry with global growth potential.
And it must become integral to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade’s economic
To encourage investment in the new tourism product and the attractions of tomorrow, the
government must do more to cut red tape, cut fees, cut taxes, and cut delays on critical projects.
To make that happen, MPPs must be partners with the industry, advocating at every turn for
positive change. I think it’s a great idea to assign an MPP the task of leading an
interjurisdictional success team to get behind an idea, champion it, and bring it to successful
Tourism operators are also telling us that the Regional Tourism Organizations, or RTOs, in
many cases, may not be living up to the government’s promises. And while some are
understandably reluctant to advocate reversing a process and structure just coming into place,
many are concerned by their accompanying levies and their mandate.
On the other hand, there may be examples where the RTOs have created new alliances and
partnerships to the benefit of their respective communities.
On this issue, and all the others, we want to continue listening to you. Because whether the
RTOs stay, go or change, our tourism marketing and organization must be focused on
And we need solutions that work for all of Ontario – both inside and outside the GTA.
Despite the challenges you’ve faced, going all the way back to 9/11 and SARS – and today, an
uncertain world economy, and unwanted taxes and regulation — I remain confident that
Ontario’s tourism industry will grow stronger.
For we have an obvious asset: the people who operate our tourist attractions and those who
deliver hospitality to our guests. Our world-class attractions and festivals are second-to-none.
We need a government that is attentive to your concerns, and receptive to your hopes and your
aspirations – a government open to new ideas.
At the same time we don’t want to set aside those ideas that have already been generated – the
good ideas, just waiting to be implemented. We need to adopt good ideas, when they’re
affordable and when the industry embraces them, even if they come from the other side of the
I would never reject a good idea out of hand, just because it originated with another political
In the end, the foundation of tourism is not the government of the day. Neither is it an agency or
a report gathering dust. Its foundation is the beauty of our great province, and the
resourcefulness its people.
For working hard, for taking risks and for creating jobs in your communities, you are its
foundation. You showcase our province to the world.
Again, thank you for this opportunity to join you today, and I know that Tim Hudak and the
Ontario PC Party value your contribution. We hear you and we want to work with you in a new
era of partnership, where your industry drives the government’s agenda – not the other way
around. I would want to work with you hand in glove.
Thank you very much, and good luck in the coming year.