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Campaigning parties at odds over tourism plans

Tourism is a bone of contention in the waning days of the provincial election campaign.

The Liberals unveiled plans last week to put $8 million into a fund to “revitalize iconic tourism sites,” a move characterized by the opposing Progressive Conservative Party as a last-ditch bid to appeal to voters.

The move would create jobs for young Nova Scotians and support the middle class, said a Liberal Party news release.

“We are going to build on last year’s record season to create more jobs here in Nova Scotia,” said Liberal leader Stephen McNeil.

“We will work with tourism businesses to do exactly that.”

Tourism Nova Scotia would administer the new $8-million fund, to go toward maintaining and enhancing existing tourist attractions the agency would also select, the release said.

“Fixing up iconic tourist sites will keep visitors coming back to our province,” said McNeil.

“With more visitors, we will have more jobs created in this important sector.”

The provincial government would match funds from businesses and other levels of government, the news release said.

The stakes are high. Buoyed by travel trends and a strong American dollar, Nova Scotia has seen three straight years of visitor growth, and an historic $2.6 billion in tourism revenue last year, according to provincial numbers.

The tourism industry employs more than 40,000 Nova Scotians.

But PC leader Jamie Baillie said the Liberals’ $8 million money pot isn’t really a plan.

“It’s throwing money at something, which they’re now doing in their dying days,” Baillie said, repeating criticism levelled at McNeil for undercutting the province’s film industry with the elimination of the film tax credit.

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“It certainly won’t make up for the devastation they caused . . . The film industry was a great source of tourism for the province. That’s why we’re committed to restoring the film industry to its full strength,” Baillie said.

He said he envisions a $34-million tax credit so film industry investors and producers qualify on it based on their ability to attract private capital, with “no government committee to decide who the winners and losers are.

“We understand something that the Liberals don’t — Nova Scotia makes money on the film industry, and tourism is one great example of that,” he said.

“Our tourism strategy starts with restoring the film industry and matches it with an ecotourism task force,” said Baillie. “This is a true strategy because it leverages Nova Scotia’s natural beauty with an industry that can promote it around the world.

“That’s a proven strategy — it was working for Nova Scotia before the Liberals messed it up. It works in other places, like B.C.”

Baillie said if the province really wants to help small tourism operators, that should be done with lower taxes on small businesses so they can invest on their own.

Additionally, the PC platform includes an Eco-Tourism Task Force, estimated at $1 million.

“We know a healthy environment can be a big boost for our tourism industry, so we will establish an Eco-Tourism Task Force,” Baillie said.

The Nova Scotia NDP platform does not appear to include the word “tourism.”

However, the NDP’s 32-page platform does supports reinstatement of a film and TV production tax credit program, reopening Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, and increased investment in Arts Nova Scotia.

The NDP declined to comment to The Chronicle Herald.