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Culinary tourism hobbled by taxes, labour shortages, says internal report

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The Liberal government’s grand plan to make Canada a “culinary destination” for foreign tourists — think poutine or potted moose — is getting some turbulence from restaurant owners.

Internal consultations with restauranteurs show they’re bristling over a new federal alcohol tax and struggling with shortages of uniquely Canadian food items that tend to be produced for export.

They also complain they can’t keep good workers because the industry pays low wages. They’re calling on Ottawa to ease immigration rules to bring in more foreign workers willing to accept low wages.

An internal federal report on making Canada a culinary destination for international tourists says too many of our finest foods, such as Malpeque oysters from P.E.I., are exported, leaving little for consumption at home.

“The precariousness of many restaurants’ business models meant that they were forced to keep their staff on minimum wage,” says a summary of the consultations, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

“Participants wanted the government to look again at putting in place a more favourable visa regime until the longer-term challenge of boosting the appeal of work in the food sector to Canadians could be met.”

The findings are part of a $59,212 report delivered last month by Vancouver-based Twenty31 Consulting Inc. to the tourism branch of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (formerly Industry Canada).

Twenty31 conducted in-depth “roundtables” with 43 experts in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax to get input on what the sector needs to boost culinary tourism. It’s part of a five-year tourism plan first announced by the Liberal government in May 2017.

Railing against taxes

The groups railed against taxes on restaurants — particularly an “escalator” tax on alcohol introduced in the 2017 federal budget, which bumps up the excise tax on beer, wine and spirits automatically by the rate of inflation each year.

“They felt that restaurants faced significant fixed costs, with a range of taxes on small business, as well as excise duties that created major cost pressures for them,” says the internal report.

“Participants in Toronto lamented the fact that all levels of government had so far been unresponsive to lobbying by the industry and (were) unwilling to consider looking at costs like the escalator excise tax and other small business charges.”

Beaver tails, a kind of sweet or savoury pastry. The Liberal government wants to build culinary tourism in Canada, but is being warned that it must ease visa rules to allow more restaurant workers willing to accept low wages into the country.

Many also told the roundtables they had difficulty getting access to iconic Canadian foods, such as Malpeque oysters from P.E.I., because so much is exported — and suggested imposing quotas to keep some supplies at home.

“There was widespread regret that overseas demand — and particularly from the Far East, and particularly for fish and seafood — meant Canadian produce was not as plentiful in its home country as it should be,” says the document.

“… the government should be willing to look into setting quotas to ensure that people in Canada continue to have access to it, with one suggestion of a quota of 25 (per cent) of seafood being reserved for the local market.”

The roundtable participants said the typical profit margin earned by restaurants — just four per cent — makes them unable to pay most workers more than minimum wage, which leads to heavy turnover and labour shortages.

… the government should be willing to look into setting quotas …– Food industry experts suggest in a consultation that Ottawa should set local quotas on iconic Canadian food products to prevent them from all being exported

Some pointed to Australia as a model. There, the government has built up culinary tourism partly by mandating a high national minimum wage, along with standard service charges on restaurant bills. The resulting higher meal costs are mitigated by bring-your-own-bottle policies, with a nominal corkage fee charged by restaurants when patrons bring their own wine.

“People felt this model had promise and should be investigated,” says the document. Such a policy would be at odds with the position taken by the lobby group Restaurants Canada, which has opposed higher minimum wage levels in Ontario and Alberta.

Participants also complained about interprovincial trade barriers preventing access to regional craft beer, cider and wine, highlighting the jurisdictional issues that afflict tourism policy in Canada as provinces set their own tax and labour policies.

Canada not on foodies’ radar

The Twenty31 report acknowledges that “Canada as a country is not currently on the radar as a culinary tourism brand or destination, nor does food and drink rank high on the list as a reason to choose Canada as a destination …”

But the consultant’s recommendations for boosting food tourism are blacked out in the version released to CBC News.

A spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Hans Parmar, said officials there are still analyzing the report’s recommendations.

Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly is developing a new visitors policy that will include measures to boost culinary tourism. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Marlee Wasser of Restaurants Canada said the group is pressing Finance Minister Bill Morneau to include money for a culinary tourism strategy in his spring budget.

“Previous budgets and throne speeches highlighted the importance of culinary tourism to the integrity of the Canadian brand, but no funding or initiatives have been proposed (or) discussed with the food service industry,” says the pre-budget submission for 2019-2020.

The department says tourism generates about two per cent of Canada’s GDP, supporting 1.8 million jobs. The Liberal minister of tourism, Mélanie ​Joly, recently announced an advisory council on the visitor economy. The government also has set as a short-term goal a doubling in the number of visitors from China and a 30 per cent increase in international overnight visits by all foreign tourists by 2021.

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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