Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak today. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable.
It is a great pleasure to join the debate this evening and discuss the importance of the tourism industry and the associated industries of the tourism industry. There is no question that my riding of Perth—Wellington is famous for many aspects of the tourism industry. We cannot think of the City of Stratford without instantly thinking of Shakespeare and the Stratford Festival. The Stratford Festival is world renowned for Shakespearean plays, but it is also renowned for its other plays as well, including its musicals. Musicals that it has put on in the last couple years have certainly seen Canadian talent on display, which has enriched our cultural theme in Stratford and across our country.
However, the Stratford Festival is not the only arts and culture aspect of our great riding. There is also Drayton Entertainment. The Drayton Festival Theatre in the township of Mapleton is one of seven theatres now associated with Drayton Entertainment. This theatre started out as a small aspect of public life and the community has now grown to more than $60 million in economic activity for this one small theatre.
In Stratford, we have Stratford Summer Music. It was the brainchild of John Miller who saw the need to bring music to Stratford that perfectly complements the existing arts and culture aspects of the community. That is not all. We are lucky in Perth—Wellington to have countless museums that are preserving and enriching the lives of our community. The Stratford Perth Museum had an exceptional year the year before last, with so many exceptional exhibits, including an exhibit on one of Stratford's better-known sons, Justin Bieber. That exhibit was partially the brainchild of the former government House leader, the former member for York—Simcoe, Peter Van Loan, who toured the facility while he was shadow minister for Canadian Heritage and made that suggestion to the museum curator.
We also have the St. Marys Museum which has done so much to enrich the lives and preserve the heritage of Stonetown. Currently it has an exceptional program online where it is recreating old photos from the town of St. Marys with modern residents of St. Marys, which is getting a great following online.
The Palmerston Railway Museum is preserving the rich railway history and heritage of the Town of Palmerston. While the Wellington County Museum is just outside my riding in the riding of Wellington—Halton Hills, it is doing an exceptional job preserving the great history of our community.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Fryfogel Tavern and Arboretum. The Fryfogel Tavern is the oldest surviving building in Perth County. In fact, its first resident, the one for which Fryfogel is named, was a tax collector. The reason that building never paid taxes is that he was clever enough at the time to never finish the front porch of the building; thereby the building was was never assessed for municipal taxes.
These different things are core to the rich tourism industry in Perth—Wellington. In Stratford alone, tourism accounts for nearly 13% of the workforce, and that does not take into account the related industries, whether they be the retail industry, including our downtown merchants in Stratford and across Perth—Wellington.
As the chief opposition whip mentioned, half a million people are now out of work in this industry. Imagine: half a million families are without a paycheque because of this terrible pandemic that is affecting the lives of so many Canadians. What the industry is looking for is not a silver bullet, but for a degree of predictability. They are looking for some certainty long-term. No one, and I repeat, no one wants to see borders reopened before it is safe to do so. What the industry is looking for is some acknowledgement of when and what factors are needed to allow that border to reopen.
How many Canadians need to be vaccinated before the government will reopen the borders? What key criteria is it looking for to allow that to happen? I ask because so many businesses in my riding, and I am sure in ridings across the country, are hanging by a thread right now.
I spoke to one business owner who sent me an email that said, “We are presently paying on a line of credit at a rate of 6%, and the interest is more than what we are receiving in revenue.” That is the reality of so many of these small businesses in Perth—Wellington and across the country.
One of the challenges we have seen with small businesses, especially new ones, is that they just do not qualify for the support programs that have been put in place. They are too new. They had the bad fortune of opening just prior to the pandemic or, in some cases, during the pandemic, and as such, they do not qualify.
I do want to give credit to the local Community Futures development corporations that service Perth and Wellington counties. They have gone above and beyond the call of duty to try to help the small businesses that have been left out of other government programs.
I know I may not have a lot of time left, but I want to highlight one success story I have seen recently in my riding. It is called Broken Rail Brewing and it is in the town of St. Marys, the stone town.
This was a business that really struggled but has made the best of a bad situation. It is another business that had the misfortune of opening during a pandemic, but here is the great thing: The town of St. Marys worked with the business to make it happen. I would hazard a guess that this particular brewery may be one of the few breweries in the country that is in a national historic site. It is located in the old St. Marys Junction Railway Station, which once housed the employment of one Thomas Edison, who would have been fired from his employment for nearly causing a massive rail accident in the community when he fell asleep while doing his job. The business has taken this old building and given it new life as a brewery. That is the exceptional small business entrepreneurial spirit that we need to be highlighting in our communities.
To get to the point where we can reinvigorate our tourism industry, we need certainty and support from the government. It has failed to in this regard when it comes to this pandemic. We need to know when vaccines will be in the arms of Canadians and we need to know what percentage of Canadians will be vaccinated before we can reopen the economy.
It has been an honour and a privilege to join the debate this evening. I look forward to questions from my hon. colleagues.
I want to quote another email I received from a small business owner, who said, “On March 15, I was forced to close the doors of my successful small business that I had spent nearly the last decade growing from the ground up and forced to lay off loyal employees, many whom have been with us from the start. This was without a doubt the hardest decision I have had to make, but I knew it was for the greater good to protect the safety of my community.”
That is what these small businesses are doing. They are doing what is best for the community, but it is not what is best for their bottom line. They are struggling and they are looking for that light at the end of the tunnel. For so many of these businesses, that light at the end of the tunnel is the vaccine, but we have seen the vaccine rollout bungled, botched and delayed, while we see our friends and colleagues around the world, whether in Israel, the United Kingdom or the United States, getting the vaccines far more quickly than what we are seeing here in Canada. These small businesses are disappointed, to say the least. It just gives further confirmation of the challenges they are facing going forward.
No one wants more debt, but what we continually hear from the Liberal government is more debt, more debt availability for small businesses. No one is denying that credit availability is important, but when someone has suffered through so many months of downturn, the last thing they want to do is take on more debt.