My name is Steven Grenier, and I am the president of the Association des camps du Québec.
I'm delighted to be appearing before the committee this afternoon on behalf of our association.
Founded in 1961 by overnight camp administrators, the Association des camps du Québec, or ACQ, represents 346 non-profit organizations, municipal and private organizations, that operate 691 sites and welcome more than 300,000 campers every year. Our members generate combined annual revenues of over $100 million.
Our association's mission is to “recognize and promote the quality and educational value of the camp experience in Quebec”, by bringing together organizations that provide programs for overnight camp, day camp, nature classes, family camping and group camping. The goal is to support, promote and ensure quality programming.
Thanks to ACQ accreditation, members are known for the quality and safety of the services they provide, a fact that is all the more important in the current circumstances.
The “accredited camp” designation is assurance that all of our members adhere to more than 70 standards, meeting safety, supervision, programming, environmental and dietary requirements. In other words, ACQ accreditation is synonymous with a commitment to the highest quality.
However, as you all know, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, our industry has been hit with major financial challenges, while having to navigate an environment of great uncertainty. Although we recognize that the current crisis is affecting every sector of the Canadian economy, there is no denying that some of the things that make our industry unique also make us more vulnerable to the challenges that COVID-19 poses.
Keep in mind that camps are seasonal businesses that, for the most part, operate only in July and August. Contrary to most sectors, camp operators have just eight weeks to generate revenues for the entire year.
For many camps, those eight crucial weeks of business are in jeopardy because of the pandemic. Even more importantly, the services camps provide help foster fulfilment and well-being among campers in a safe environment.
For obvious reasons, the ability of camps to offer those services in the current environment has been seriously undermined. To keep children safe this summer and adhere to public health guidelines, camps are going to have to put extraordinary measures in place. Those measures will inevitably mean significantly higher operating costs for camp managers, who need government assistance to get through the crisis.
That reality, combined with the reduction in day camp participants this summer, as required by public health authorities, will definitely lead to losses for camp operators in Quebec and the rest of Canada. As troubling as these issues are for day camp managers, they pale in comparison with the challenges overnight camps in Quebec are facing.
Not authorized by the Quebec government to open for the summer for safety reasons, overnight camps will lose almost all of their revenues for 2020. Clearly, despite being closed, they will still have to cover a host of fixed costs—rent, electricity, upkeep and insurance, just to name a few. That will put them in an untenable financial situation and call into question their ability to open in the summer of 2021. What's more, they will have to find a way to refund the deposits of parents who registered their children in camp, adding to the financial burden on overnight camps.
For all these reasons, without government support, there is no doubt that numerous overnight camps will have to close their doors permanently. We think that would be beyond tragic, given what an integral part of Canadian culture overnight camps are, and have been for over a century.
Much more than just places to sleep, overnight camps are truly places that foster fulfilment and growth, where children can have meaningful experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives. The importance of overnight camps in the lives of Canadian youth must not be underestimated. That has been confirmed over and over again by the hundreds of parents and children who have told us how disappointed they are at the announcement that overnight camps will not open this summer.
We want to reiterate that we are ready and willing to work closely with the government to find solutions tailored to the needs of overnight camps, so they don't disappear from the Canadian landscape forever, taking with them a piece of our cultural heritage.
With the Government of Canada's help, we remain optimistic that Canada's overnight camps will eventually go back to doing what they do best—providing Canadian youth with unique experiences—as they have for decades.
On behalf of the Association des camps du Québec, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee.
Thank you for listening to what we had to say.