NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair travelled Monday to a tourist mecca — one that just so happens to be in a Conservative cabinet minister's riding — to tout his party's plan to boost the number of American visitors to Canada.
Mulcair took his campaign to Niagara Falls to promise that an NDP government would invest $30 million over three years in Destination Canada, a Crown corporation responsible for promoting Canada as a four-season tourist destination.
The Conservative government itself pledged $30 million over three years in its last budget to market Canadian destinations with the goal of attracting an additional 680,000 Americans over that period.
Mulcair is promising an additional $30 million on top of the money already budgeted, the NDP said.
The New Democrat leader said Prime Minister Stephen Harper has actually cut $24 million from the agency during his time in office, even though it coincided with a drop in American visitors.
"It was a decision that simply didn't make any sense," Mulcair said. "We want to get back the same number, in fact a little bit more, of tourists that were lost under Mr. Harper's watch."
In 2002 there were more than 16 million overnight visitors to Canada from the United States, but in 2014 that number was down to 11.5 million, according to Statistics Canada.
But Harper's tenure has coincided with periods that saw a very strong Canadian dollar; Mulcair acknowledged that a $24-million cut from a tourism agency is likely not solely to blame for fewer American tourists.
"There's no doubt that tourism is a cyclical industry," he said. "Some of it has to do with cycles and with levels of the Canadian dollar. But at the same time what we need is a reliable federal partner."
Niagara Falls, where the tourism and hospitality sectors support 33,000 people, is held by Conservative Rob Nicholson, who served as both defence minister and foreign affairs minister in Harper's cabinet.
Nicholson handily won the riding in the 2011 election, but the NDP believes recent provincial gains in the region bode well for them federally.
After finishing fourth in the provincial riding in 2007 and third in 2011, Wayne Gates took the riding for the NDP in a tight byelection in 2014, then won again comfortably in the provincial election later that year.
The federal NDP candidate, local city councillor Carolynn Ioannoni, is one of several former Liberal supporters in municipal politics who the New Democrats say are now throwing their support behind the NDP.
Ioannoni said she was "disappointed" with the Liberal decision to support Bill C-51, which would give police much broader powers, allow them to detain terror suspects and provide new powers to Canada's spy agency.
Mulcair said he believes Nicholson could be in trouble in his riding because "he has been part of Mr. Harper's very troubled regime for the last 10 years."
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