Although the sun set on the Northern Tourism Region this week, it’s rising on PA North — a new northern tourism advocacy group.
On Monday, Northern Tourism Region general manager Paula Stalwick closed down the organization’s head office in Paddockwood, proud of what they’ve managed to accomplish in their 13 years together, garnering 300 supportive members.
“We had events, bed and breakfasts, municipalities … campgrounds, different cabins, guest ranches, outfitters, golf courses … anyone that wanted to be involved with us,” Stalwick said.
The Northern Tourism Region was one of seven such regions across the province to have its provincial funding, which was funnelled through Tourism Saskatchewan, cut late last year. They’ve run off of reserves until finally closing on Monday.
“We really promoted the unknowns,” Stalwick said.
“That’s why we object to the way the government’s doing it now,” Northern Tourism Region chair Greg Dionne added.
“They got rid of all the members and what I’m concerned about is — to us, we represented the small guys, while Tourism Saskatchewan wanted to do more flagships.
“I really became the voice for advocacy with municipal governments and the provincial government, and that’s going to lead up into the next effort.”
This new effort — PA North — is “100 per cent an advocacy group,” Dionne said.
Using an example, Dionne shared the story of a tourist-centred business in the north that wanted to start serving beer and wine — that was, until the government became involved.
“The liquor commission comes in (and said) ‘you have to lock it up, you have to move the dining room, you have to do this and this,” Dionne said.
A quick call out to MLA Nadine Wilson and the business owner was able to get the liquor licence without the hassle of renovations, despite the liquor commission representative stating very plainly that such approval wasn’t going to happen.
They got rid of all the members and what I’m concerned about is — to us, we represented the small guys, while Tourism Saskatchewan wanted to do more flagships. - PA North head Greg Dionne
With Tourism Saskatchewan increasingly centred in Regina, Dionne said that such advocacy is a necessity.
“The little guy in the north is having an issue with the government. He’s feeling helpless, because he’s all alone in the north dealing with the bureaucrats in Regina,” Dionne said.
The main focus will be on infrastructure within their target area, which consists of the Prince Albert area, stretching to the borders east, west and north.
Dionne recalls one instance where he directed a camper to a northern community, not realizing how horrible of condition the road was in.
“He hit a pothole in his brand new motorhome and broke his axle,” Dionne said, of the camper who swore to never go north again. “Once you got there, they loved it, but it’s the roads.”
“Even motorcycle tours would be a great thing, but you need great roads,” Stalwick noted.
A second North Saskatchewan River crossing at or near Prince Albert is another important goal, Dionne noted.
“We’re not going to write letters because we know that isn’t going to work,” he said, citing the city’s Build a Second Bridge Campaign.
Instead, they plan on focusing on the safety and infrastructure implications, in that a second bridge would extend the life of the Diefenbaker bridge.
PA North is planning membership drives in the near future, going down the list of 300 members the similarly focused Northern Tourism Region had. They have enough funding to operate for the next three years.
“The reason we’re only going to operate for three years is that leads us into the next provincial election,” Dionne said.
At this point, it will be reviewed to see what the next step may be.