Vernon chamber hosts Tory MPs on Canada's handling of COVID-19 pandemic

Tories: ready for reopening

Being ready to take advantage of a reopened economy was the thrust of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce's latest virtual town on Wednesday.

Chamber manager Dan Proulx hosted local Conservative MP Mel Arnold and Calgary's Pat Kelly, shadow cabinet minister for small business and western economic diversification.

Kelly said: "When government orders businesses to close, they have an obligation to support those businesses ... We need a safe reopening to get business back up and running."

Arnold said it's important to hear from small businesses.

"The key thing is to listen and find out what they need, whether that be subsidies, loan interest rate reductions."

Kelly acknowledged programs "had to be invented very quickly," but said there have been many holes.

"To thrive, businesses need customers not new loans ... getting a safely reopened economy – there is no substitute, no way around it."

On the local front, Arnold said the focus should be on opportunities rather than challenges.

Despite the pandemic, "it was a relatively respectable summer for tourism operators, for most part," he said.

"If we can get travel restrictions lifted and people moving about, that will help the tourism sector, which feeds much of small business."

A big part of that will be getting rapid COVID testing in place and a large percentage of the population vaccinated "to allow people to move freely again."

Arnold said he would support a phased reopening of the economy once those barrier are met, "but we will have to talk with our international partners as well, so we have recognized standards as quickly as we can make that happen."

Both Arnold and Kelly said the Tories have been pushing the governing Liberals to deliver a budget as Canada's deficit climbs.

"It has been a challenge to hold them to account for their spending," said Arnold.

"The least painful way out of this will be through economic growth."

Kelly concurred, adding: "We need to get people back to work so the economy can grow."

"Interest rates are low, so we can afford borrowing in the short term, but long term, if we see a 1 or 2 per cent jump, it will put us in a precarious position," said Arnold. "It's a huge risk – businesses don't want to take on debt risk right now."

The MPs also supported excise tax parity with the U.S. for Canadian distillers, and Arnold praised Vernon's Okanagan Spirits for its year-long efforts in making hand sanitizer.

Kelly said there must not be any new taxes imposed on businesses if they are to rebound from the pandemic.

The Tories were asked about support for the aviation industry and why there has been no support for Kelowna International Airport.

Arnold said it's not just a matter of getting flights back. He noted KF Aerospace is a major employer not just in Kelowna but also in the North Okanagan, and that with fewer aircraft flying, there is much less maintenance to be done, affecting local jobs.

"It's going to be very tough for this industry for a while," Kelly added.

Arnold thanked local businesses "that have dug in so hard" during last year.

The chamber's next town hall is March 31 with Sam Samaddar, Kelowna International Airport director.

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