Government needs to step up and help Okanagan agriculture and wine industries says MLA

Support needed now

I used to think Kelowna’s economy was diversified enough to be resilient in the face of difficulties.

But no one could have predicted the different headwinds facing businesses in Kelowna currently. Our economy is certainly more varied than it was 20 years ago, adding aerospace, digital technology and healthcare. But agriculture and our wine industry still remain key drivers of our economy, bolstered by the two million visitors who come here every year.

The intricate weave of part of our economy, the twin pillars of tourism and agriculture, are currently facing unprecedented challenges.

Some of them are caused by government. The introduction of new short-term rental regulations in British Columbia, aimed at mitigating housing shortages, inadvertently casts a long shadow over our tourism sector.

While most municipalities, including Kelowna, were looking for a way to bring short-term rentals into better alignment with neighbourhoods and zoning, the provincial NDP government changed the game for all by prohibiting short-term rentals for all but a few.

This legislative change, coupled with the severe weather events that battered our agriculture—particularly the wine and tree fruit industries—presents a dual challenge that could significantly alter the economic landscape of our region.

Allow me to explain.

The essence of Kelowna's allure to visitors lies not just in its scenic landscapes but in the unique accommodations and agri-tourism experiences it offers.

The current legislative framework, by restricting short-term rentals, threatens to diminish this appeal, potentially leading to a decrease in tourist arrivals. Visitors no longer want to stay in hotels exclusively. In fact, hotel rooms can be very restrictive when it comes to how people want to travel today.

Short-term rentals provide families with children, or multi-generations, ways to stay together, cook together and properly enjoy all that a vacation in Kelowna can offer.

That is no longer possible, and the rates are already skyrocketing because of it.

The inevitable decline in tourism is not merely a matter of fewer visitors enjoying our lakes and vineyards. It represents a potential loss of income for local businesses and workers whose livelihoods depend on a thriving tourism industry.

Moreover, the environmental adversities faced by our agriculture sector require some immediate response from government, or they will risk complete devastation.

The recent spate of wildfires, floods and climate irregularities have not only reduced yields but have also heightened the economic vulnerability of our farmers and producers.

And government has yet to respond. This lack of response is nothing less than disheartening, highlighting a gap between policy and the on-ground realities of agricultural resilience.

It is imperative government policies consider the long-term economic health of sectors pivotal to Kelowna's prosperity. For example, nuanced legislation regarding short-term rentals could preserve the vibrancy of our tourism sector, ensuring Kelowna remains a premier destination for visitors.

In parallel, a robust support system for our agriculture sector—encompassing financial aid, technological innovation, and climate adaptation strategies—can mitigate the impacts of environmental challenges.

By fostering resilience in our agriculture, we not only secure the livelihoods of those directly involved but also ensure the continued appeal of Kelowna as a destination rich in culinary and natural experiences.

As we navigate these turbulent times, we need government response in a thoughtful and localized way. But sadly, government is sitting silent on the help that is desperately needed to keep our wine and tree fruits industries alive, all while enforcing its one-size-fits-all approach to short-term rentals and shutting down the City of Kelowna’s modest request for specific zones to be allowed.

My question to you is this:

How important do you feel the accommodations and agriculture industry is to our local economy?

I love to hear from you and read every email you write. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BCUnited MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

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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