Behest of the West: Pie served up, jealousy sets in

Coun. Duncan McMaster noted time could be bought by refusing the budget and taking Tourism Tofino to arbitration.

Money is tight. That’s always true because by the time you wrestle your way into a position to get any of it, you’ve racked up all kinds of responsibilities to spend it on.

Adulthood means budgets. Real budgets. Household budgets. Not the sort of hole-in-the-floor budgets federal governments play around with. When the Liberals laid out their plan to rack up $100 billion in debt over the next five years, local governments must have felt like they’d been punched in the stomach. Our councils are prohibited from debt. Every dollar must be accounted for and every added expense means added angst from taxpayers.

Gord Johns has an impressive motor and he’ll fight for his voters without getting tired but take the angst he aimed at the federal budget with a heavy side of salt. As the NDP’s small business and tourism critic, criticizing the Liberals isn’t just in our local MP’s job description, it’s in his title.

It’s a partisan-eat-partisan world and it’s getting hard to trust the outrage.

Our councillors though, have no parties to play politics with. Their outrage is genuine when they throw their angst around and I’ve never seen a budget accepted as angrily as Tourism Tofino’s was last month.

Tofino is booming and every tourist who books a room here pays an additional hotel room tax that brings in revenue, which is given to Tourism Tofino to spend on maintaining the boom by marketing the town.

It’s easy for us to look around at our paradise and wonder why anyone would need convincing to come here, but we’re not the target audience. We’ve already fallen in love with this place. Tourism Tofino is trying to reach tourists who haven’t found it yet. This isn’t the world’s only paradise and household budgets mean families typically only pick one to visit each year. Tourism Tofino seems to have a knack for preventing the problem we’d face if we stopped getting picked.

But, their budget is $930,000 this year, up from $744,000 last year, and that increase wasn’t going to go unnoticed by council. The $350,000 allocated to admin expenses, up from $245,000 in 2015, raised my eyebrows but council didn’t seem concerned about that; their beef was with how little of the overall budget would be spent in town.

A change in guidelines last year meant some of that additional hotel room tax revenue could be spent on local projects and programs. That guideline change had councillors salivating in dreamworlds where Tourism Tofino paid for programs like the summer shuttle service and the ambassador program. When they saw just $19,000 allocated for local programs, tempers were lost. Especially when it turned out Tourism Tofino had 10 days to submit its budget to the Province and there wasn’t any time to feng shui the numbers.

Coun. Cathy Thicke was livid.

“This has come at the last minute and I’m being pushed with my back against the wall to make decisions that I do not agree on,” she outcried. “We need to be creative in how this money is spent and we are, as the council of the district of Tofino, entrusted with this decision.”

Mayor Josie Osborne reminded council they had given up their right to micromanage when they delegated supervision of  Tourism Tofino’s budget to their staff last year. Tourism Tofino submitted their budget to the district on Feb. 1 and what appeared before council 10 days before April 1’s deadline had been hashed out for over a month by their own staff and Tourism Tofino. Micromanaging always seems like a good thing to avoid until hindsight kicks in.

Coun. Duncan McMaster noted time could be bought by refusing the budget and taking Tourism Tofino to arbitration, but Osborne slammed this idea.

“If we can’t work together as partners on something that we’re trying to do the best for the community for, then why are any of us here,” she asked.

To be clear, these aren’t local tax dollars being spent. These are tourist tax dollars built into accommodation costs and used to attract more tourists. Council get its own tourist tax dollars from BC’s RMI program. Last year’s RMI funds brought the district about $700,000 to enhance Tofino’s tourist experience with programs like the summer shuttle and ambassador program.

Both parties get a slice of tourist dollar pie; arguing over whose is bigger doesn’t seem fruitful. It’s an easy circle to get stuck in though. We need tourists to come here so we need to spend money to market here to tourists, but we also need them to come back, so we need to spend money on local programs so they’ll enjoy their experience and want to repeat it.

We watched the Liberals throw infinite pies into a boundless black hole and that made it harder to appreciate our own slices. Council saw Tourism Tofino get served a bigger tourism slice and got choked. Jealousy is dwarfing gratitude right now. Let’s savour our own slices.


Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.