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Shadow minister hears tourism concerns in Grande Prairie

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It’s clear to Prasad Panda that Alberta municipalities want more return on their tax dollars. While visiting Grande Prairie last week on a tour of the northwest part of the province, the United Conservative Party Economic Development & Trade Critic said that request is one of the most common he’s heard.

In addition to meeting with the local chamber of commerce and visiting Seven Generations Energy and Canfor facilities, he also took part in a roundtable with tourism stakeholders at the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley. Several participants noted that they want more of the wealth created in northern Alberta to stay in the region.

The province collects a four per cent tourism levy from all local hotels. Johnathan Clarkson with the Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association says of the millions of dollars paid out last year, only $260,000 came back in through marketing funds applied for by the association.

“Of the millions of dollars going out of the community, where are those dollars going and why aren’t they going into our community and into the north here? We’ve got huge opportunities; we’ve got to really change the perception that the north is a tourist destination and we do have things to offer.”

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Dino museum executive director Susan Hunter adds that marketing strategies that are funded by the province don’t necessarily fit the needs of our region.

“We are in cars basically most of the time so radio works, unless it’s Sirius Radio. Not everyone has access to the internet of their computers in rural areas, so marketing is not on the side of bus stops and that type of thing that may work down south; ours is billboards, which are very costly; even print still works.”

Panda says he hears their concerns, but argues a more pressing issue is how much money the province as a whole is sending to Ottawa through equalization payments. A study by the Fraser Institute recently found Alberta contributed $221.4 billion more in revenue than it received in federal transfer payments and other services between 2007 and 2015.

“In the bigger scheme of things, the biggest problem Alberta has is we are transferring billions of dollars to the other provinces and we’re receiving very [much] less, even during difficult times. We all know that Alberta has the $11 billion deficit for the last couple of years… this is the time other provinces should be more sympathetic to us.”

The Calgary-Foothills MLA also made stops in Hinton, Grande Cache, Valleyview and Whitecourt. He says most people he met with are worried about the economy and jobs.

“So many businesses are fleeing Alberta; capital is fleeing Alberta. All those multinational [corporations] leaving from Alberta, they’re actually investing elsewhere. It’s not like they’re sitting on the capital; they’re moving the capital from Alberta and taking it to other jurisdictions where they have lesser risk.”

Panda says he will be taking the feedback he’s gotten with him to the legislature for the next sitting in the fall. He says the UCP plans to hold the NDP to account for the next two years, saying Albertans want them to be less ideological and more practical and pragmatic.

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