Madam Speaker, it is always a great privilege to rise and speak in the House of Commons, and in particular today on the opposition day motion from the member for Thornhill. I consider the member for Thornhill a friend. She is someone I have had the opportunity to get to know in the last few months, and I thank her for her work.
Before I begin my formal remarks, I would like to put into context the role of government in our society, noting Adam Smith's work about what governments should and should not do. The first thing a government should do is protect the health and safety of its citizens. In fact, the most important role of government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens, whether it is through delivering the services of health care, ensuring that all people have health care and access to health care or ensuring that we have a proper defence system in place and are protected. Those are the fundamental duties of government, as is ensuring public safety. Those are the duties I look to in what a government's role is in society.
During the pandemic, our government has done a lot and continues to do a lot. As we say, our government has has the backs of Canadians. It has had the backs of Canadian workers, families and businesses as we have gone through the pandemic and as we are exiting it. I am proud of our government's record on many facets of the pandemic. I offer my prayers and condolences to the many Canadians who have unfortunately had loved ones pass away due to COVID-19. We must always remember what happened during that two-year period and what continues to happen, though maybe at a more gradual pace.
I am happy to participate in the debate today on the Conservative motion and to have the opportunity to discuss the government’s commitment and efforts to ensure the recovery of Canada’s tourism industry, including wait times at Canadian airports. Tourism is important to every region and every province. It is an inclusive industry, providing jobs and opportunities to newcomers, women, youth and indigenous people. These are specific groups that have experienced some of the worst impacts of this global pandemic.
The tourism industry is the engine of family-owned and family-operated businesses in communities from coast to coast to coast. Virtually all tourism businesses, some 99% of them, are small businesses. They are the backbones of communities across all 338 ridings in this beautiful country we are blessed to call home.
The Government of Canada understands the important role that these businesses play in our communities. They are the lifeline of Canada’s economy and employ nearly two million people across the country. That is approximately 9% of our workforce.
We recognize that pandemic restrictions have placed an economic burden on businesses. Since day one of the pandemic, entrepreneurs have adapted and taken on the challenge of remaining viable. That is why the government introduced financial support for employees’ wages, subsidies for rent and loans to provide liquidity relief to ensure business survival through to the recovery period. As a result of the programs we put in place, tourism businesses across Canada are in a better position to recover.
COVID-19 has impacted the tourism industry, its businesses and entrepreneurs in particular, as demand has been affected by the required public health restrictions. The government understands the impact on the tourism industry, and for that reason, it has put a number of targeted measures in place to help these businesses outlast the pandemic.
For the tourism, arts and culture sectors, businesses and non-profit organizations have received over $23 billion through federal emergency support programs. Budget 2021 introduced a three-year, $1-billion commitment for the sector. This included a $500-million tourism relief fund, which was created to help Canada’s tourism businesses not only survive but come back better. Of that, we earmarked a minimum of $50 million specifically to support indigenous tourism. It also included $100 million for Destination Canada marketing campaigns to help Canadians and other visitors discover and explore the country, $48 million of which is expected to be spent this fiscal year.
Last October, when the overall economy bounced back and general relief measures expired, the government introduced targeted wage and rent subsidy programs in Bill C-2, another bill the opposition party voted against, even though it was for supporting tourism businesses and their workers across the country. We have also invested $4 billion in the Canada digital adoption program, announced this month, which will help upwards of 160,000 small and medium-sized businesses to expand digital capabilities and adopt digital solutions. This is especially important in the tourism industry, where success hinges in part on the capacity to motivate visitors from around the globe.
This year, budget 2022 proposes to provide $20 million over two years in support of a new indigenous tourism fund to help indigenous tourism recover from the pandemic and to position itself for long-term, sustainable growth. It also announced a commitment to develop a new federal tourism growth strategy focused on recovery, stability and long-term growth.
The federal government will work with tourism businesses, provincial and territorial counterparts and indigenous tourism partners to plot such a course. On May 18, the Government of Canada launched the formal engagement period to develop this new strategy, and the government wants to hear from Canadian tourism stakeholders from coast to coast to coast as it charts the path forward for the sector.
Furthermore, to help restore Canadians' confidence in the safety of air travel and to support the recovery of Canada’s air and tourism sectors, the government invested in COVID-19 sanitization and testing infrastructure at airports and in the development of advanced technologies to facilitate touchless and secure air travel. This April our government also lifted testing and quarantine requirements at international borders for fully vaccinated travellers, including for unvaccinated children under 12.
The health and well-being of all Canadians have always been the Government of Canada’s priority during the COVID-19 crisis. Canada’s continuing requirements are based on the latest and evolving scientific evidence. The government is committed to seeing the tourism industry thrive once again, and this funding has played a role in keeping businesses open during the past two years.
Prior to the pandemic, tourism was a growing, high-potential sector that supported almost two million jobs across Canada. Last month, tourism gained almost 40,000 jobs. We are seeing the beginning of the recovery. We are moving in the right direction. With our high vaccination rates and the ebb of the omicron variant, we are confident that the summer 2022 tourism season will outpace that of summer 2021.
While there is no denying that the tourism sector has been deeply affected throughout the pandemic, I believe there is much built-up demand and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to come back stronger. As international travel reopens, tourists' pent-up desire to visit friends and family is being realized. I believe that in one week, two or three weeks ago, over one million arrivals and departures came through Canada's international airports, which is great to see.
Canada has much to offer: wide open spaces, beautiful vistas, bucket-list adventures, welcoming people and authentic indigenous tourism experiences. These are the kinds of meaningful and sustainable experiences that today’s travellers, from both Canada and abroad, are craving. Canada also holds a strong appeal for those seeking to learn more about first nations, the Inuit and the Métis, and for those seeking an inclusive experience or a francophone language and cultural experience.
Canada is also of great interest to people who want to learn more about first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and to those looking for an inclusive experience or a francophone linguistic and cultural experience.
We know that Canadians are currently experiencing long lines at airports, and we are working closely with our partners and CATSA to address the wait times and make sure the travel industry continues to bounce back.
Canada has a huge advantage due to its high vaccination rates, and I encourage all Canadians to get their vaccines if they have not or to get their boosters. We are focused on health and safety, and with all governments in Canada working together collaboratively, we will make sure the rest of the world appreciates this advantage, sees Canada as a destination of choice, particularly in the coming summer months, and visits all parts of Canada from east to west, from B.C. to P.E.I. to Newfoundland and Labrador, and all the beautiful places in between that all 338 members of Parliament get to call home.