Conservative MP Blake Richards (left) and Marshall Neufeld

Parliamentary tourism chairman joins local discussion

Airports become hot topic during MP’s visit

A peek of blue sky over mountains shrouded in cloud was all it took for the Pacific Coastal flight to soar into the West Kootenay and land at Trail’s airport Tuesday morning.

The roar of the plane’s engine was a welcome sound for Blake Richards after his earlier flight out of Castlegar had been cancelled.

It was also a kismet moment because the predominant challenge the chairman of the Parlimentary Tourism Caucus heard from local stakeholders – is the lack of consistent flights into both of the region’s airports.

“Today I am experiencing it myself,” said Richards, who had a full roster of meetings scheduled in Vancouver before heading back to Ottawa.

“You can never be completely sure on flights coming in so obviously that is a challenge that exists,” he said. “I know people here are working very hard on trying to address that so we are willing to help with that in anyway we can.”

The Conservative MP from Alberta, accompanied Marshall Neufeld, Tory candidate for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding, for roundtable discussions with chamber representatives and industry leaders about opportunities and obstacles in tourism from the Okanagan through to Trail, Rossland and Castlegar.

Talks in Oliver and Naramata honed in on problems related to transporting wine across both provincial and American borders. But the focus locally was airports – and that was unexpected for Neufeld, a Penticton native.

“We spent a lot of our time discussing airports in both Castlegar and Trail,” he explained.

“This is something I have been aware of before now, but it was a surprise that it was the dominant point of conversation.”

The airline industry is market driven, Neufeld continued, which means there isn’t a lot he can do politically, but he can advocate for larger planes that can land at lower ceilings, in both airports.

“I understand there is a fair amount of hold-up from Air Canada’s point of view for not bringing in the Q400 (larger aircraft),” he said. “There’s not a lot a politician can do with that, but we can help in discussions with them.”

Airport matters aside, Richards said he heard a resounding message of optimism from the local tourism industry.

“With all the natural beauty that’s here, there is a real opportunity to grow tourism,” he noted.

“Through my work on the tourism caucus, we really find when international visitors come to Canada from the States or overseas, what they want to experience in Canada is our beautiful scenery and everything that has to offer, like fishing, mountain biking and skiing.

“Frankly, I can think of very few places that offers that in such abundance as this area.”

Once Richards completes his tour of British Columbia communities, he plans to incorporate what he has heard from the tourism industry to help shape federal guidelines especially around the country’s 150-anniversary in 2017.

“We are just in the information stage,” said Richards. “ Although no policy has been set on how travel is going to be incorporated into the 2017 celebrations,” he added. “People’s suggestions and ideas for how a travel and tourism component could work will be taken into those discussions.”

Specifically, the caucus is considering ways to increase Canada’s profile for leisure travel in the market south of the border.

“This area in particular is uniquely positioned to be able to take advantage of marketing to the States from any level of government,” he said. “With what there is to offer in terms of proximity and great media there has already been about this area in the US market – this area really stands to benefit.”

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