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Japanese tourists pose with Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who said the NWT isn't spending enough on the 2005 World Expo in Japan. - photo submitted by Robert Hawkins

$500,000 not enough for Japanese Expo: MLA

Stephan Burnett
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 23/05) - The Government of the NWT is planning to spend $500,000 on the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan, but MLA Robert Hawkins doesn't think that's enough.

The global fair begins March 25 and runs for 185 days during which time it is expected to attract some 15 million visitors.

Hawkins said the money being invested in the Japanese show - the front-lines as far as the aurora tourism industry is concerned - is a mere one-eighth of what was spent by the government on the same event in Spain 13 years ago.

"As far as I'm concerned the aurora tourism industry was built by small industry and had very little government support," he said. "We continue to ignore our proven industry - the government is asleep on the tourism issue."

Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development Minister Brendan Bell said the amount of money is better than it sounds because the government is stretching everything it spends at the Expo.

This time around the Canadian government is paying more, he said.

"We've got a week set up for this and we're doing things with the consulate," he said.

As well, the GNWT is also looking to buy into other events, so the public accounts aren't on the hook alone while maximizing exposure.

"We're offering to partner with companies wanting to host events while at Expo," he said.

Meanwhile executive director of NWT Tourism David Grindlay declined to say much on the matter.

"Ourselves along with RWED and the aurora operators are meeting with RWED officials this week, Wednesday or Thursday," he said. "Hopefully something positive will come about as a result."

Hawkins said the time to invest in the aurora tourism business is now.

"Let's recapture this market," he said, adding the industry is still trying to recover after the 1999 high of 13,000 visitors fell by half by 2001.

He points to the experiences in the Yukon, which did not invest mining royalties into sustainable tourism industries when it had the chance.

Now the mines are gone and it's harder to find the capital needed to build business in the North.

"We've risked tens of millions of dollars on multinational companies in an unstable environment to try to make the diamond cutting and polishing industry work here," he said. "And we still have multiple problems."