The future of the local Visitor Information Centre is up in the air, in part due to a lack of federal funding for summer students.
None of the Cowichan Valley’s five Visitor Information Centres received the funding they’d requested for summer students, to help cover the summer tourism season.
“It’s a federal-funded grant. It used to be regulated out of an office in Victoria, but now it’s regulated out of an office in Calgary,” Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce president Jim Humphrey said.
The chamber operates Cowichan Lake’s Visitor Information Centre.
The grant was refused last year as well, Humphrey said, until he contacted the Calgary office, at which point they changed their mind and provided the requested funds.
This time around, Humphrey said that it doesn’t look as though the grant will come in.
“We’ve got to re-do the funding system, because we can’t keep fund-raising the dollar number that we do,” he said.
The Cowichan Valley Chamber of Commerce had representatives meet with Nanaimo-Cowichan member of parliament Jean Crowder recently, to discuss this lack of federal funding.
The summer student funding in her riding has actually increased this year, Crowder explained to the Gazette, as a result of the high rate of unemployment in the area.
The problem arises through Human Resource Skills Development Canada’s criteria for those applying for a chunk of the funding, which is set in Ottawa and utilizes a points system.
“It’s another example of priorities set in Ottawa that does not meet local needs,” she said.
The local Visitor Information Centre requires about $51,000 annually to run, of which $21,000 is provided by local governments.
This year, the funding came in the form of $10,000 by the Town of Lake Cowichan, $6,000 from CVRD Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls (Area F), and $5,000 from CVRD Youbou/Meade Creek (Area I).
The remaining $30,000 is coming from the Chamber of Commerce, including fund-raisers such as the annual Spring Fling.
With the lack of summer student funding, the Chamber of Commerce is falling back on the reserve funds they’ve accumulated.
“We have the money to pay for the staff,” Humphrey said.
An additional barrier has been the raising of minimum wage, which as resulted in pay raises for summer staff.
“We’ll do what we’ve got to do to keep it open during the summer,” he said, adding that directing the 20,000 or so people that drop in the centre on an annual basis is a worthwhile endeavour.
Once the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce meets again in September there will be serious discussions around the future of the centre.
One idea has the chamber handing centre operating duties back to the Town of Lake Cowichan and the local CVRD areas I and F.
“We need to decide, does that visitor centre benefit the community as a whole?” Humphrey said.
“It does not benefit businesses as much as some think… It helps…. Fund-raising just gets harder and harder every year.”