Tourism was on the mind of Blake Richards, a Conservative MP who was in Fernie and Cranbrook last week as part of a regional tour of roundtables to gather feedback on the state of the industry.
Richards, the MP for Banff-Airdrie, who serves as the official opposition critic for tourism, called tourism a bright spot in the economy over the last year, and cited programs created under the previous Conservative government – such as investment in marketing in the U.S. and Canada as well as 150 grants for infrastructure.
He gave credit to the Liberal government for continuing to invest in tourism and heard positive feedback from local tourism operators and officials during some of the stops on his tour.
However, challenges still remain with labour shortages, and Richards specifically pointed to a report that suggested making a few tweaks to the Temporary Foreign Workers program.
“A lot of discussion on how we encourage more Canadians to fill the jobs that are available and that is something we have to continue to work on,” Richards said. “I’m happy to be a part of trying to find solutions there, and I know that organizations like the College of the Rockies are making some real efforts there.”
In addition to his duties as tourism critic, Richards also serves as Deputy Critic for Democratic Institutions and sits on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which has been touring the country for feedback on potentially tweaking the federal voting system.
The federal Liberals promised electoral reform as part of their 2015 campaign, and have followed up on that promise with the creation of the committee that is gathering feedback and studying reforms such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting and online voting.
Richards and the Conservative Party maintain that any change from the First-Past-The-Post system needs to be made through a national referendum.
“Obviously there’s a need to seek a proper mandate from Canadians in order to pursue those reforms,” Richards said. “That’s a very significant reform, we’re talking about changing the very way we vote in our federal elections. That’s a pretty basic underpinning of our democracy and I don’t think you make those kinds of decisions lightly, I don’t think you make those kinds of decisions without the decisions being made by the Canadian people.
“It isn’t a decision for politicians and political parties alone and any kind of change to the way we vote should be put to the people for their consent.”
Richards says the Liberals have been resistant to the notion of a national referendum and emphasizes that whatever recommendations come out of the committee, the government must let the people decide the final outcome.
“Legally, is there obligation for them to do that? No,” Richards said. “Morally? I would say when Canadians are calling for the federal government to do something else, that’s a real troublesome proposition and it speaks to the very reason why a referendum is so important.”