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In-Your-Service

The road to post-pandemic recovery could be a long one

Road to recovery

In the last couple weeks, we’ve seen hundreds of people seeking refuge in Kelowna-Lake Country as a result of the floods and road closures facing our region.

The response here in Kelowna, and from across our nation, has been heroic. My thanks go out to the efforts of municipal and provincial officials, first responders, Indigenous leadership, Canadian Armed Forces personnel and of course the thousands of residents who selflessly are volunteering their time.
There are many ways to donate as well, such as bringing transit tickets, cash and gift cards for clothing or food to the Salvation Army, Central Okanagan Food Bank or the Emergency Support Services Reception Centre currently at Willow Park Church on Hwy 33. The Canadian Red Cross, the United Way and the BCSPCA, among other organizations, have also established their own donation funds.

I’ll be working alongside my colleagues on Parliament Hill to ensure the federal government does its part to support those who need help during this crisis.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, it is a privilege to once again be named to the official Opposition’s shadow cabinet as the Conservative Party's shadow minister for small business recovery and growth.

I have always looked to champion small businesses here in Kelowna-Lake Country and have spoken with hundreds of local employers and entrepreneurs about the challenges they face. They are at the centre of our economic well-being as small businesses provide the paycheques for two out of every three working Canadians in the private sector.

That’s why our road to recovery cannot be permanently lined with Help Wanted signs.

I hear frequently from local businesses and from colleagues about crippling labour shortages here and across the country in all sectors.

Since the pandemic hit, many small businesses have been put into survival mode. Even before Covid-19, Liberal tax changes, red tape, and regulations were already damaging the ability of small businesses to grow. We need to ensure small businesses on our main streets and around our community not only survive, but can thrive.

Addressing rising levels of business debt is vital to this goal. With average small business owners taking on $170,000 in new debt, even with government programs, it’ll be difficult for many to keep the lights on. Newly opened businesses in late 2019 or early 2020 have been some of the hardest hit as they were not applicable for most of the recovery programs.

Talking to small business owners locally, they tell me that even if it becomes business as usual now - they’ll take five years to recover, let alone get ahead.

Here in Kelowna-Lake Country the success of our tourism and hospitality sector is critical to restarting our own economy as these are among our economic engines. Extending work visa’s would allow tourism businesses, in particular ski hills, who rely on this program, to staff up during the winter tourism season in order to offer the activities they need, to sustain their businesses.

The recovery and growth of Kelowna Lake-Country and Canada as we come out of this difficult time will rely on the drive, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of small business owners. As a former small business owner myself, I know what it’s like to make payroll and have everything on the line. As we enter this new parliamentary session, I will be the voice of small business and fight for you in Ottawa.

As always, please be sure to reach out if you have any thoughts, ideas or concerns and if you need any assistance with federal services.

I also encourage you to sign up for my regular emails (through my website to stay up to date on my work in both Ottawa and Kelowna-Lake Country—tracygraymp.ca and [email protected].



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MP questions need for expensive PCR test to re-enter Canada

Tests to re-enter Canada

The United States recently reopened its land border to fully vaccinated travellers from Canada. After 20 long months, many Canadians are eager to head south to see friends and family.

If you’re fully vaccinated, the United States doesn’t require you to take a COVID-19 test to enter by land, but when you’re returning from your trip, Canada still requires you to provide a negative molecular test to come home.

There are different kinds of molecular tests but the most commonly referred to is the PCR test, so for simplicity here, I’ll refer to PCR. At a cost of $150 to $300 each, a family of four could be on the hook for testing costs of up to $1,200. I’ve heard from local constituents who have struggled to find a PCR testing location in the United States, with some having to drive two hours to find one with availability. Constituents have also said many testing locations in the U.S. have indicated it may take longer than 72 hours to receive the PCR test results. However, if your test is older than 72 hours when attempting to cross the border back into Canada, it’s considered invalid.

Of course, keeping Canadians safe should be a priority. That being said, the federal government needs to clearly explain why someone who is fully vaccinated needs to take a costly, time-consuming, difficult to find PCR test, instead of a less costly and more readily available rapid antigen test. Rapid antigen tests are commonplace in the U.S., are approved for use in Canada, can provide results within 15 minutes and can be purchased at American pharmacies for as low as $24 USD.

The current requirement to have a negative PCR test adds a costly barrier that many families are saying they simply can’t afford.

During this pandemic, my constituency office has been flooded with numerous residents of the Kelowna-Lake Country riding asking for help to navigate the confusing and continually changing federal public health measures.

This becomes even more difficult when the entry and re-entry requirements between Canada and the United States are at odds.

Figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that between Aug. 9 and Oct. 21, 0.18% of Covid-19 tests completed at the border amongst vaccinated travellers were positive. Constituents have asked me what data the government is using to require vaccinated travellers to take the PCR tests when there are cheaper, more readily available, alternatives.

It’s not just travellers speaking up either. Business groups, tourism associations and border-area mayors have also called for the removal of the PCR testing requirement.

Protecting Canadians is a priority but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be room for improvement.

It’s time for the federal government to review the data it is using to put in place Covid-19 safety measures at our borders, while using all the health tools available and acknowledge and respect all the work that has been done to get us to this point.

Are you planning to travel to the U.S. or anywhere else? It’s always best to check the Government of Canada website to get all the most recent updates and requirements here: COVID-19 vaccinated travellers entering Canada - Travel restrictions in Canada – Travel.gc.ca.

As always, please reach out if you have any thoughts, ideas, or concerns on this or anything else, or if you need any assistance with federal services.You can contact [email protected] or 250-470-5075.

If you’d like to stay up to date on my work in both Ottawa and Kelowna-Lake Country, visit tracygraymp.ca to join my newsletter.



Kelowna-Lake Country MP wants Parliament recalled now

Unacceptable delay

In justifying his early, $600 million snap election, the prime minister said the election “may be the most important since 1945 and certainly (in) our lifetimes”.

With that, I hoped he would recall Parliament quickly, so that all MPs could get back to advocating for the priorities of our local communities in Ottawa.

However, despite the fact the election was well over a month ago, Parliament is not set to return for nearly another month—on Nov. 22.

Since the prime minister said this was such an important election, I can’t help but wonder why he’s pursuing such a delay.

Canada’s Conservatives have been calling for a quick return so we can get back to work to address the very big and exceedingly urgent challenges our country is facing.

Locally and nationally there are so many important issues I, and my Conservative colleagues, are ready and willing to tackle immediately.

• Inflation is at the highest it’s been since February 2003 and it’s hitting our community at the grocery store, gas pump and in hardware stores.

• Pandemic support programs have started to expire but businesses and people continue to need more support. At the same time, I’m still hearing from local businesses that they simply cannot find enough workers.

• The Okanagan Rail Trail remains unfinished due to federal government delays dating back years before I became an MP and is something I have been advocating to have completed since I was elected in 2019. We need the Indigenous services minister to get moving on this important local issue.

• Kelowna International Airport remains closed to international flights. Since I wrote to the (Transport) minister last month for the second time, asking for a timeline on re-opening, I’ve heard from business leaders, community organizations, municipal officials from across the Okanagan and regular travellers who need the airport fully re-opened. I sent a new package this week to the minister with copies of support letters.

• Ski resorts are also facing a labour crunch, and they’re saying delays in visa processing are hurting their chances of re-opening with the full services that people want. I was proud to join Michael J. Ballingall from Big White Ski Resort, the board chairman of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, earlier this month in writing to the immigration, refugees and citizenship minister to ask the government to extend working visas for people already in Canada until March 2022.

This would allow temporary workers to work through the ski season.

It is a small, simple solution that ski operators and other tourism businesses across Canada have said would help address their labour crunch.

By not recalling Parliament, the prime minister has ensured there are no debates, no committees, and no Question Period. In short – no accountability, no scrutiny, and no results.

After a $600 million election, Canadians deserve a return on their investment.

Our country is facing some big challenges and our community has specific issues that need to be addressed. I’ve been back at work, advocating on your behalf and I wish I could say the same of our prime minister.

When we do get back to Ottawa in November, I promise to continue to hold the government to account and fight for your priorities.

As always, please reach out if you have any thoughts, ideas, or concerns on this or anything else, or if you need any assistance with federal services to [email protected] or 250-470-5075.

If you’d like to stay up to date on my work in both Ottawa and Kelowna-Lake Country, visit tracygraymp.ca to join my newsletter.



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YLW's continued closure to international flights hurting economy

International flights needed

From sorely needed tourism dollars spent at struggling small businesses to higher costs for leisure and business travellers, the federal government still has Kelowna-Lake Country closed for international travel business.

In addition to the impact this has locally on residents and businesses, the airport director stated the extended closure has cost the airport itself an estimated $2.5 million since the spring of 2020. Since YLW is a municipally-owned airport, this hit directly impacts the City of Kelowna.

Quebec City’s airport and a second Toronto airport recently re-opened to international travellers, despite having smaller passenger numbers than YLW. The fact that Kelowna is the only airport on the list of the top 10 busiest Canadian airports that remains closed is completely unacceptable.

YLW has been a leader in preparing for the resumption of international travel. In March 2021, they put in place a fully certified lab to conduct Covid-19 testing on-site and have the capacity to conduct pandemic surveillance.

These are reasons why I wrote to the federal transport minister back in July for answers as to why YLW remains closed to international travel, the metrics used to justify the closure and a timeline for re-opening. I have not received a response.

I followed up earlier this month to ask for the full re-opening of YLW, and once again questioned what metrics were used to justify the international travel closure and what the timeline is for re-opening. That would allow small businesses and the tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as airlines and airport staff to plan for the future—stability that is sorely needed in these industries.

Again, as of the writing of this report, I still have not received a response.

But it’s not just me. I know that the airport itself has corresponded with various government agencies, asking the same questions and it has not received any clarity.

Local business leaders are also speaking out. Dan Rogers, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce executive director, recently stated: “Kelowna International Airport is a major hub in B.C. and has a massive impact on the economy in the region and province, and we need to see the federal government take immediate steps to help YLW rejoin the international community,”

Michael J. Ballingall of Big White Ski Resort told CBC: “We want to kick-start the economic recovery,” adding the lack of transparency is creating uncertainty.

“There's a large thirst for people to come up here,” he said.

Millions of dollars in revenue and our local economic recovery are put at risk each day YLW remains closed. This disadvantages us compared to other airports that have had their international designation status returned.

I will continue to advocate on behalf of our community to have our airport re-opened safely to international travel, and the economic benefits and certainty that come with it.

As always, please be sure to reach out if you have any thoughts, ideas, or concerns on this or anything else, or if you need any assistance with federal services.If you’d like to stay up to date on my work in both Ottawa and Kelowna-Lake Country, visit tracygraymp.ca to join my newsletter or send a note to [email protected].



More In Your Service articles

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About the Author

Tracy Gray, Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is the official Opposition’s critic for Small Business Recovery and Growth.

She is a member of the national caucus committee’s credit union caucus, wine caucus, and aviation caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, worked for 27 years in the B.C. beverage industry.

She founded and owned Discover Wines VQA Wine Stores, which included the No. 1 wine store in B.C. for 13 years. She has been involved in small businesses in different sectors — financing, importing, oil and gas services and a technology start-up — and is among the “100 New Woman Pioneers in B.C."

Gray was a Kelowna city councillor for the 2014 term, sat on the Passenger Transportation Board from 2010-2012 and was elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the boards of the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library and was chairwoman of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She volunteers extensively in the community and welcomes connecting with residents.

She can be reached at 250-470-5075, and [email protected]

 



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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