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Why did Tourism BC get the axe? Only the premier knows

Vaughn Palmer  Nov 23, 2009

When the New Democrats went looking for the reasons behind the B.C. Liberal decision to axe Tourism BC, they did not know what they would find.

The August announcement caught the tourism sector by surprise. Six months before the Olympics. A much-admired agency. The reactions ranged from "absolutely floored" to "gravely concerned" to "utterly ridiculous."

Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger said the agency was being absorbed by his ministry to the make most of scarce dollars in tough economic times. In order to test those claims, the Opposition filed a request under freedom of information legislation.

The application asked the tourism ministry to turn over "any and all records related to the decision to close Tourism BC," including "records of evaluation, reports or assessments that have been carried out on Tourism BC that in any way informed the decision to close it." Plus "records of evaluation, reports or assessments carried out in terms of the cost savings involved with closing Tourism BC."

Such a request will usually produce reports that are larded with whiteout but with the occasional tidbit of useful information. Instead, this week the Opposition got back the following:

"The ministry has no records responsive to your request. The ministry has performed a thorough search across all relevant program areas and no responsive records can be located. Your file with this office is now closed."

So not even a blanked-out report as evidence of the government's lack of openness and transparency about the real reasons for consigning Tourism BC to the ash heap.

Still, the response did have a certain dog-that-did-not-bark quality. With that in mind, NDP tourism critic Spencer Herbert got to his feet in question period Thursday.

"Today we learned that there are no records, no reports and no reason to justify eliminating B.C.'s industry-led, award-winning marketing agency just six months before the Olympics," Herbert advised the house.

Then the question to Tourism Minister Krueger. How could he presume to make such a decision "with no records, reports or assessments to back him up?"

The reply was classic Kruegerian bluster. Olympics approaching. Three billion pairs of eyes on B.C. Province working flat out to maximize opportunities. Nothing but good news. "Why don't they like good news?"

Herbert, back on his feet: "The minister talks about a great opportunity to market B.C., but then he takes the industry-led marketing group, which is supposed to do that marketing, and takes the axe to it, shuts it down, kicks it to the ground. The minister has said the decision to do so was about cost savings and efficiencies, but according to his ministry, there are no records, reports or any assessments which show that there are any savings at all."

It was just common sense, Krueger returned. "When you've got limited resources to make sure you combine those resources, to make sure that you focus them on achieving the goals that are set out before us. ... We don't want to waste a dollar."

Still, it would be reassuring to know that Krueger had some measure of how many dollars would be saved, some analysis of how marketing would be improved. On the evidence supplied by his ministry, he didn't have more than the vaguest notion.

All of which tends to confirm the persistent rumour in the capital, that Tourism BC had somehow offended Premier Gordon Campbell. One of those possibilities was aired earlier this fall by Keith Baldrey, chief political reporter for Global TV, in his column in the New Westminster Record and other community newspapers.

"Tourism BC officials kept insisting Premier Gordon Campbell's favourite slogan -- that B.C. is 'the best place on Earth' -- was simply not workable as a marketing tool to woo tourists," Baldrey wrote. "Trying to tell Americans (or pretty much anyone else, for that matter) that their country is somehow inferior to our province simply doesn't work."

B.C.'s natural beauty ("Supernatural B.C.") was a better selling point, the officials argued. Their pitch was as successful as most attempts to persuade the premier that he was on the wrong course.

Another possibility emerged this week courtesy of my Vancouver Sun colleague Bruce Constantineau. He filed an information request, but on broader terms than the Opposition, seeking all "correspondence" going back four years on the need for "changes" at Tourism BC.

He got back evidence that Campbell had been unhappy with the agency for at least two years. As far back as 2007, the ministry complained to Tourism BC about the "inadequate progress" toward the goal, set by the premier, of doubling tourism revenues over 10 years, starting in 2005.

The letter put the agency on notice. A ministry representative would henceforth be attending board meetings to ensure directors were "apprised of the government's priorities and expectations."

After that, there was perhaps no need for the ministry to begin compiling evidence to justify getting rid of Tourism BC. The agency was already on somebody's hit list and it was only a matter of time before the axe would fall.

Why did Tourism BC get the axe? Only the premier knows
Premier Gordon Campbell / Image via


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