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#ChiefG AvaHill, #CommunityAboriginalRecreationActivators(CARA), #TourismEventMarketingProgram; #OntarioTourismMarketingPartnershipCorporation, #WhereAmI?, #Ontario150CommunityCapitalProgram,
Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Eleanor McMahon shares about her Ministry's model for other provinces in Canada during an exclusive interview with IBNS Canada's Asha Bajaj.
1.Tell me a bit about yourself.
What made you interested in joining politics and how you describe your current political career?
The tragic death of my husband, OPP Sergeant Greg Stobbart in 2006 who was killed while cycling -- when he was off duty -- by a careless driver led me to a different direction in a journey to public life and I began a campaign to improve road safety in Ontario.
In 2014 I was elected to the Ontario legislature as MPP for Burlington. After serving as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, I was appointed as the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport on June 13, 2016.
In the 10 months since assuming the Tourism, Culture and Sport portfolio, I have had the opportunity to travel the province to meet with artists, arts workers, librarians and heritage advocates, theatres and galleries, studios and on to film sets. And we have engaged in some wonderful conversations about Ontario’s thriving sectors. I shared the opinions about our successes, and also areas where we could use some improvement.
Tourism strategy maximizes the growth and competitiveness of Ontario’s tourism sector and enhances partnerships including creating economic opportunities for tourism and investment through the revitalization of Ontario Place. We built regional tourism model which supports enhanced partnerships, product development, investment and workforce development. We were able to support over 200 festivals and events through the Celebrate Ontario program. Examples include: the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest), Supercrawl in Hamilton, the Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival, and the Kemptville Live Music Festival. 367 initiatives were approved for Ontario150 Community Celebration Program funding. Examples include: 150 Seconds of Ontario Film Festival, Celebrating 150 of Ontario Agriculture, and VIVA ONTARIO 150.
The cultural strategy outlines a number of action items and comprises a lot of sectors like libraries, museums, archives, television sectors and how we work with different agencies like Ontario Arts Council (OAC). We fund several cultural and heritage entities and they also have a huge multicultural section and address business and First Nations Culture. Our cultural strategy is somewhat unique in the country and I am happy to say that this strategy is being followed by Quebec.
2017-18 provincial budget promises increased investment in the culture sector. OAC will receive a $20 million increase over four years. The Ontario culture sector is growing and it’s important that the OAC keeps pace and I look forward to see its the impact. Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports (MTCS) in Ontario will be implementing a one-time $1 million investment in our northern, rural and Indigenous libraries. Libraries are the hearts of our communities, and I know that this investment in digital services and connectivity will be welcomed across the province. We’ll have more details to share with you on this program soon.
As far as Sports strategy is concerned sport and recreation are important sectors to the physical, emotional and economic well-being of Ontarians and our Ministry works collaboratively with the sport and recreation sector to promote, support, and increase opportunities for all Ontarians to participate in sport and recreation, from playground to podium. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Ontario athletes represented 45% of the Canadian Olympic Team. Among our sport activities: Provincial/Multi-Sport Organizations delivering sport recognition program at the provincial levels to provide fair and safe participation in amateur sport for all Ontarians. We enable and encourage. Ontario athletes to achieve podium finishes at national, international levels, and federal-provincial/territorial forums by investing in the hosting of international amateur sporting events. Besides, we provide support to volunteers, coaches, officials and organizations where they are trained by athletes. We also deliver an Ontario Games program, including Summer and Winter Youth, Senior and ParaSport Games. We provide support for targeted after school programming that increases opportunities for physical activity for children and youth through support for provincial and local delivery partners. We provide provincial coordination for trails to ensure Ontarians have access to outdoor spaces in which to engage in sport and recreation. We engage Indigenous communities in sport, recreation and physical activity.
2 For the first time in Ontario we did a cultural strategy that allowed us to look at all of the industries within the culture sector. How are we doing? How do we fund them? Please also highlight your contributions to libraries in Ontario.
Our cultural strategy comprises a number of sectors like libraries, museums, archives, television sectors, movie sectors and how we work with different agencies like OAC. We fund several cultural and heritage entities and they also have a huge multicultural section and address business and First Nations Culture. Our cultural strategy is somewhat unique in the country and I am happy to say that this strategy is being followed by Quebec. Based on public feedback, Ontario’s first Culture Strategy focuses on four key goals: to promote cultural engagement and inclusion; strengthen culture in communities; boosting economy; promote the value of the arts throughout government. To realize these four goals, we’re taking action in a number of areas, including: supporting the conservation of heritage buildings by making energy efficiency improvements through Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan. We are creating a new fund that will support publishers to develop learning resources to encourage the use of diverse Canadian content in schools. creating opportunities for workers in the culture sector to enhance their technical and business skills training; developing a new fund to support cultural activities in Indigenous communities and supporting youth cultural camps to build leadership skills and promote awareness of traditional knowledge. We learned a great deal through Culture Talks. As we implement the Culture Strategy, continuing the conversation will help us achieve the goals Ontarians helped us set.
The Ministry-Industry Film and Television Advisory Panel examines innovation and global expansion of Ontario's film and television sector. We increased the annual investment in the Interactive Digital Media Fund to $10 million and worked closely with stakeholders to focus the government’s Interactive Digital Media investment on core entertainment products. The Ontario Music Fund program investing $15 million annually to sustain growth in the music industry. The ministry supported several successful exhibitions including the Royal Ontario Museum’s Art Gallery of Ontario’s Mystical Landscapes and more. Department of Canadian Heritage submitted a comprehensive review of culture policy which supports Canadian content (Cancon) entitled “Strengthening Canadian Content Creation, Discovery and Export in a Digital World.” Ontario was the only province or territory to make a submission. Launched the 2017 Celebrate Ontario funding program with improved program guidelines, which includes adding rural and northern Ontario festivals as target sectors, and encouraging festivals and events to apply for enhancements that celebrate Canada150 and Ontario150.
This year as a result of our engagement with the general public asking them to do a budget talk to suggest which area they think needed to be funded most and libraries came on top. Libraries are very important to me too because I grew up in the public library system. Being the youngest of 7 children, my mother taught us to read when we were very young and I used to go to the libraries all the time as a kid and libraries are personally important to me. We do have a very robust infrastructure of libraries and have announced an increase of 3 million dollars for libraries as well as for First Nations. We do a lot of work with libraries. But we know that they are vibrant community hubs and play a distinct role in whatever community they are in. Libraries are centres for seniors, for young children, for people to use computer with internet access, as high speed internetservices may not be available for them at home. Libraries are vibrant community centres and many years back libraries ensured silence. But now libraries are more of sharing ideas and digitization of libraries are the trend of the modern libraries. Ontario is investing $3 million through the Improving Library Digital Services fund and will support up to 307 libraries and library organizations across the province. This includes $1 million for rural, remote and First Nation public libraries through Budget Talks.
3. According to a recent study, narcotics are making inroads in Canada and have already plagued a certain age-group. To be exact, the youth. Who do you reckon should be held responsible?
I do not think it has changed. Here is the reason. How to fix it has not changed. I am the youngest of the 7 children and my mother kept us very busy for a couple reasons. Number one is it builds up our independence and fosters a sense of growth in us as young people and build a sense of community. Our parents were very much of this view. Second it kept us out of trouble. My mother would say to us with a laugh that she involved us in sports and in music and other activities so that we learnt to socialize and how to get along with others and build that kind of independence. So I think those desires by the parents at present are still alive.
4. The other point that has come out of this argument is that these kids ought to be taking up some sort of sports or other activities, instead of doing drugs. How do you as a minister and your ministry as a team plan to engage and encourage them in taking up sports?
We spend millions of dollars in after school programs at schools themselves and some of these programs are at places like YMCA, Community Centres and so on. Some of them are run by cities located in various places and in my community these programs are supported by my ministry and are run in churches and community centres. The community really dictates their needs and we fund them. We work closely with the Ministry of Children because they tell us that keeping children healthy and well in a holistic way, meaning both mentally and physically, and the programs that we offer are designed to do that.
5. Minister McMahon, Canada has been very welcoming, and passionate about Ice-Hockey and has been historically playing well in Ice-Hockey. But it hasn't been able to maintain the same intensity in other popular sports such as football/soccer and cricket. Why do you think this is the case?
There is a reason for that. Hockey had been our national sport for a long time. There is a historic context to that. That is why it is in our DNA. It started at the community level and it has been fostered as part of our culture and deeply embedded specially in places liked Quebec for example. Canada is a winter country. We do much better in winter Olympics by and large. We have swimming programs and other programs second to none. But we are a winter nation and Ice-hockey is very much in vogue. Another reason is that people who grow up in rural regions spent time outside. Hockey used to require very little equipment. Now it is very fancy. There are all kinds of things we can do. Back in the days a century ago you would put a blade on the stick, you would take a stick and rock it and you would play outside in a rink. That was fun. I myself while growing up played hockey in the back of or home. We were not alone in the neighborhood. Lots of people in our neighborhoods had large backyards. The popularity of hockey grew from the grass roots of sports and very accessible. Soccer is also becoming very popular in Canada. In my community alone over 5,000 children play soccer. One of the reasons that soccer is growing in popularity is because it does not require you to learn other than run up and down the field and kicking a ball. Soccer is played around the world because all it takes is a ball and some running shoes. Cricket has not been able to keep pace with Ice-hockey because Cricket is not indigenous to Canada.
6. Toronto is going to host the Invictus 2017. Tell us about your department preparation for the upcoming event. What are your plans for the future?
I have a big event today in welcoming the athletes from Invictus. We are one of the big sponsors to Invictus. We gave them $10 million to help the secretariat to develop games to execute the games. It is really important for people to remember that Invictus would not be happening if it was not for Pan Am/ Parapan Am Games which represented the largest multi-sports games in Canada’s history. They were a tremendous investment for our government. We also invested both economically and from a legacy perspective. The investments that we made and the facilities which we now have mean that we can hold multi-sport games like Invictus and we have the facilities that attract tourism and it is very interesting from the cultural perspective and of course from the sport-hosting perspective. It means that we can hold those kinds of large multi-sports events and we got the sophistication and the capacity to do that.
7. The other noticeable factor from the Canadian sporting fraternity is the absence of indigenous community. What is your ministry doing to get them back?
Our involvement with the Indigenous people is superb. As you might be knowing about the North American Indigenous Games. Ontario hosted it for the first time for indigenous participation in games. There were a couple of highlights. I went to the opening ceremony. There is a spirit of rejuvenation through the reconciliation commission (as you know the premier announced our response to the reconciliation commission called “To Move Forward Together’ last year. She also issued an apology for the legacy of residential schools and the impact on not just young people but the indigenous culture. Responding to “The Journey Together, Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” the province committed $1.4 million to support the first phase of the Mohawk Institute Residential School’s Revitalization.
So our government is addressing that. What does it mean in my ministry? It means that we are investing in indigenous youth culture camps. As part of “The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples” announced on May 30, 2016, the Sport, Recreation and Community Programs Branch is leading the design and delivery of the new Youth Cultural Camps initiative. This is intended to provide community-based cultural programming opportunities to youth and provide leadership skills training to help build resiliency. We funded youth culture camps across Ontario. We also have hired in communities Youth-Focused Sports leaders. I am hiring local people to work in each community to address the needs of that particular community about what they want and what they need.
The Six Nations Reserve, which is in Brantford is the largest reserve in the community. It has about 25, 000 people. They have a very robust sports infrastructure there, an athletic centre, recreation centre and they understand that the health and well being of the young people is really important. At the Ministry of Sports meeting as part of the Canada Day Sports this year we agreed as Ministry of Sports that the legacy for North American Indigenous Games has to be continued support for our First Nations Youth to maintain their health and well-being. And finally, this is very interesting, no body talks about this. The premier has invited Chief G. Ava Hill, Chief of the Sixth Nations to sit on a cabinet committee whose responsibility is health, well-being and poverty reduction. So that is important. We also renewed program support for 2016-19 with 27 First Nation communities participating in the Community Aboriginal Recreation Activators (CARA) program.
8. Indian visitors to Canada are rising every year though it is not like the visitors from China. What are you doing to promote Canada more to Indian travelers?
We have some very important partners that help us to market Ontario externally. The first one is our Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs). They help us to focus our tourism activities on regional levels. What might work or what might be of interest to Thunder bay, Sudbury or Sault Saint Mary is going to be different in the Toronto area. They all work individually to market and sell their part of the province. We have something called the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC). They advertise Ontario externally. They work with the Consulate General for India to market Ontario to India. So they have direct marketing channels and of course we will welcome and love more tourists from India to Ontario. But there is an interesting opportunity for us to talk about what can cause tourists from India to come to Ontario. What interests them, why would they come here? These are the kinds of things we need to know. OTMPC does a lot of market research. They also work with our counsellors around the world and our Tourism Canada makes sure that we are plugged into countries and marketing OTMPC. Next year it will be China. We are having a meeting with China next week. Indigenous tourism is of great interest to us. That would be wider part of our discussion. We have invited indigenous leaders across Canada to join us and so that we can talk about how we can leverage those capacities to start to market more indigenous tourism.
9. Coming to tourism, by Ontario tourism a lot of the people understand only Toronto and Niagara. But there are so many other tourist spots, regions. How are you promoting those to international tourists?
I have not heard this actually but this is interesting. We did a commercial that was very successful:
One of the busiest centres in Ontario is probably Ottawa. So we need to talk that Ottawa is our nations’s capital and in 2017 our tourism numbers attracted in Ontario are best so far and that is province-wide not just Niagara not just Toronto but Ottawa as well. Our markets do very well. Our wines regions do very well. Our Northern Ontario does extraordinary well because it is beautiful and open and people from around the world who live in crowded countries; well they do not have that. Going to the north and escaping to the wilderness that is the huge part of our marketing strategy.
10. Destination Canada is promoting Canada but for Ontario promotion are you doing and what are your plans for future?
OTMPC completed redevelopment of its digital marketing infrastructure to provide consumers with more compelling and accessible travel information and decision-making tools. OTMPC started a popular new Ontario tourism brand platform, “WhereAmI?,” in Ontario and Quebec. Phased revitalization of Ontario Place progress included the construction of a 7.5-acre park and trail connecting to Trans Canada Trail in Ontario. Activation of the site would reportedly be for the summer of 2017. Ontario150 Program for Events and Exhibitions at Agencies and Attractions is reported to fund 12 approved provincial agencies and attractions. Examples include: the Indigenous Plant Discovery Trail, the Eve of Confederation, and Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story.
Ontario150 Secretariat launched The Ontario 150 Community Capital Program and the Ontario150 paid advertising campaign was in-market (i.e., public) from February 7 to March 19, 2017. This program ran across TV and Cinema, Social and Online platforms and provided support for the implementation of the Indigenous Tourism Ontario 2020: Investing in our Future strategy. Ontario150 Secretariat also supported the development of the Champlain Route for a second year and established a Tourism Research Community of Practice, a volunteer network, Economic Development Council of Ontario.
The Celebrate Ontario program supported over 200 festivals and events, the largest number of events ever funded by this program. Events included the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest), Supercrawl in Hamilton, the Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival, and the Kemptville Live Music Festival. The success of the Celebrate Ontario program led to the merger of the Tourism Event Marketing Program with the Celebrate Ontario program.
(Questions compiled by Sudipto Maity)