Business Licensing Crucial Economic Development Tool or Boondoggle?

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By John Francis

Economic Development is a complex issue in Northern Bruce Peninsula. Everybody’s in favour of it, of course, but when it comes to defining it, well that’s a much tougher question.

Economic Development underpins a lot of the discussions at MNBP Council. The proposed regulation of Short-Term Accommodations is a case in point. What would define a “good” STA as opposed to a “bad” STA? One of the criteria would be: how much income and employment does it generate for people who live in MNBP?

Another concept has been mentioned a few times recently at MNBP Council Meetings — Business Licensing. Is it desirable (or even possible) for MNBP to regulate who is allowed to conduct business in our community?

Why would we care? The answer might be “Economic Development”.

Do we want businesses in our community to have bricks-and-mortar premises that pay taxes? Do we want businesses to hire local residents and spend money in our community?

Is business licensing a crucial part of our future or just one more pointless boondoggle regulation? Is it an answer in search of a question?

A social media savvy friend recently suggested I take a look at TripAdvisor’s Tobermory pages. He wondered if our local tourism sector might need to up its game a bit.

Depending on how you come at it — and TripAdvisor is a labyrinth — you can find a lot of things about Tobermory, many of them totally wrong.

But one thing stood out — a page entitled “things to do at Tobermory” began with two businesses I had never heard of. One of them offers “Personalized Tours” of Flowerpot Island, including transportation to and from Toronto. The second listing offers “Boat Tours of Fathom Five National Marine Park”. A picture with the listing shows a tiny, inflatable boat. The business model would appear to be: drive to Tobermory pulling your boat; launch the boat at Tobermory boat launch, paying the $12 launch fee; pick up your passengers at the boat launch; take them out for the day then drop off the passengers, pull your boat out and go away. “How did these businesses get to the front of the line on TripAdvisor?” I asked my media-savvy friend. “Probably Search Engine Optimization,” he answered. 

These business models don’t do much for our economy, do they? Is there anything we can or should do in response? Or should we just improve our Search Engine Optimization and let things slide?

Is this a real problem or an imaginary one?

On July 22, 2018, a tiny dive charter business launched its small vessel at the boat launch in Tobermory, picked up its SCUBA diving passengers and headed for the Grotto. The weather forecast that day called for 40 km/hr NE winds. Bruce Anchor and Blue Heron had cancelled all their sailings despite the extreme seaworthiness of their vessels.

The small boat with its load of divers went out anyway and capsized offshore from the Grotto, dumping all the divers’ gear into deep water. This wasn’t the tragedy it might have been — all the passengers were wearing wetsuits so they just swam to shore. But that’s not the point — tragedy was averted by good luck rather than good planning.

Transport Canada washed their hands of the incident. “Based on the 

vessel’s length, gross tonnage, function and operating environment, two different certificates could apply to the operator of the vessel:

· If there are six or less passengers on board, the Marine Personnel Regulations require the operator to hold a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

· If there are more than six passengers on board, the Marine Personnel Regulations require the operator to hold a Small Vessel Operator Proficiency training certificate.”

“The department is in contact with the vessel operator and is gathering information on the circumstances of this incident. Transport Canada will take appropriate action should any violations of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 be found…”

Which gets us back to Business Licencing.

Do we want STAs that are operated strictly as investments, tenants in and out on a daily basis with no supervision or control by the owner?

Do we want people driving van-loads or busloads of people up here, dropping them off at our special places with packed lunches and then picking them up at the end of the day, leaving nothing behind except garbage and latrine sites?

Do we want people running unregulated commercial boat tours from our boat launches? Can we fix this by charging (a whole lot) more than $12 to launch a commercial boat? 

Or can we simply refuse to licence the businesses unless they contribute to our Economic Development?

For my money, Business Licencing is going to be an important part of our future; the sooner we get on it, the better.