‘No one to blame but this Liberal government’ if third year of tourism is lost due to pandemic measures, Niagara Falls MP says

Niagara Falls Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli and Liberal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra had a heated exchange during a recent committee meeting in Ottawa over ongoing issues and concerns with the ArriveCAN application and delays in the airport and the land border in Canada.

Baldinelli questioned the federal government’s continued mandatory use of ArriveCAN at a Friday session of the standing committee on transportation, infrastructure and communities.

He read a public comment recently left by a Canadian traveler on Tripadvisor describing his personal ease of traveling in the United States versus Canada.

Baldinelli said Niagara Falls is Canada’s number one leisure tourist destination.

“Yet every taxpayer dollar that Destination Canada spends in international markets, including our primary market, the United States, for our border communities, is being squandered by the headlines that continually hit the press that the airport Pearson’s is the worst airport in the world,” he said, adding that 60 countries have “abandoned” all pandemic restrictions on air travel.

“So why does this government continue to cling to these restrictions, which only do a disservice and discourage travel to this country?”

Alghabra said it “doesn’t help anyone to undermine confidence” in the Canadian aviation sector “and in our institution.”

“I recognize the fact that at Canadian airports and airlines we have seen, and continue to see, some congestion, similar to what we are seeing around the world, including in the United States,” he said. “I also recognize that currently the only public health measure at our borders is to require proof of vaccination, by the way, as does the US and many countries around the world.”

Alghabra said daily work is being done to address congestion issues “and the evidence shows that things are getting better”.

“I want to ask my honorable colleague, if he really cares about the fluidity of our borders, why he and his colleagues supported these blockades, who blocked our borders, who blocked our borders for weeks, prevented Canadians and others from crossing? …”

Baldinelli interrupted Alghabra saying it was his time to ask questions.

“If you had done your job, Minister, and talked to the stakeholders, including the federal bridge that you regulate in Fort Erie, the Fort Erie Peace Bridge Authority, appoint members to this commission, they can tell you about delays at the border, about traffic is reduced by 50 percent, minister, but waiting times have increased almost more than two hours, and yet you have done nothing,” he said. “Minister, it is difficult for you to answer their correspondence and they are your commission that you regulate, so why do you continue to put disincentives to travel to this country?”

Baldinelli said 40,000 people in his community work in the tourism sector.

“We have lost two years of tourism due to COVID. This year, if we lose it, it’s self-inflicted and there’s no one to blame but this Liberal government.”

Alghabra said he wanted to put “the storm” to rest, adding that the government continues to do “everything we can to protect the health and safety of Canadians and facilitate seamless border crossing for all travelers.”

“We’ve had all hands on deck, whether at airports or at land borders. My colleagues and I have been working with border communities to make sure they have the tools they need to facilitate a safe and efficient border crossing,” he said.

Alghabra continued to speak but was interrupted again by Baldinelli.

“Who did you talk to, Mr. Minister? Have you talked to stakeholders? Have you spoken to the bridge commissions? Have you spoken to the tourist agents?” he asked. “My understanding is that the Liberal caucus recently met in Niagara Falls, the Ontario caucus, did they meet with some stakeholders to hear first-hand about the impact it’s having on my community?”

Alghabra said committee member Niagara Central Liberal MLA Vance Badawey has been a “proud and vocal advocate on behalf of the Niagara region” as well as a “champion” of the Great Lakes and communities.

Baldinelli interrupted Alghabra again to ask, “Then why aren’t you listening?”

Alghabra went on to say that Badawey has been working “collaboratively” with ministers and stakeholders.

“I’ve met with stakeholders. I’ve met with tourism experts,” he said, before Baldinelli interjected to ask why it’s taking “months to respond to your own government agency that reports to you.”

Alghabra said it is “unfortunate that the Conservatives have never taken COVID seriously”.

“It’s unfortunate that the Tories support these illegal blockades that blocked our borders and had a massive impact on border communities, they haven’t apologized to this day,” he said before being interrupted for the last time by Baldinelli.

“Minister, they’re going to have a parade in Buffalo for you.”

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