Economic stimulus has been at the top of government agendas for over a year now, and at all levels: federal, provincial and municipal. It’s the standard response, accepted the world over, that governments should work to create jobs during economic downturns.
The traditional recipe for government stimulus involves infrastructure and construction. Substantial chunks of recent government spending are going to modernize roads and highways, or to construct new buildings for local services.
Here in Aylmer, perhaps the most ambitious of these projects is the demolition and reconstruction of Place des Pionniers, which was carrying a price tag of $50M even before inflation in the construction industry shot into the double digits. The city has readily labelled this and other infrastructure projects as a great way to stimulate the local economy in difficult times.
Yet anyone looking to do renovations knows the construction industry is already red hot. Having our governments join in the competition for building materials and labour further fuels the rise in prices without creating large numbers of jobs in the economy. After all, the construction industry was already dealing with a shortage of workers to start with.
Since the hospitality sector is bearing a great deal of the financial pain of the current economic crisis, restaurants and hotels should instead be prioritized in this stimulus. Yet we need to do so in the midst of the greatest health crisis in a century.
Normally, festivals are a great way to bring in tourists and increase local consumption. Yet we need to restrict the movement of people and avoid creating large crowds.
Organizing a type of “slow burning” festival would be a start. The activities could be spread over many weeks, with no peak periods that would concentrate people at a single time. Displays of art along commercial arteries are progressing. Long running government-subsidized food festivals with meals specially prepared by our local restaurants for take-out. Types of scavenger hunts like those put together throughout the pandemic by groups like APICA. There are options if we think creatively, and some have been tried. Yet efforts have often felt ad-hoc, without a central theme or resources for an effective advertising campaign.
The city could help to promote these in a far more coherent manner. Giving events themes that could span Gatineau would attract people from around the city to explore commercial areas and support local businesses. Outdoor exhibits at our museums could also help to safely draw people to rediscover what our local shops and eateries have to offer, especially in badly hit downtown Hull. Regular events focused on enjoying the outdoors at the Marina would give a lifeline to the businesses on Rue Principale.
With creative and innovative ideas we can all get the best value from governments as they invest our collective buck to ease economic pain. But applying the same infrastructure centric approach as always could mean that our tax dollars do more harm than good, leading us to where only the wealthy can afford to keep up their properties.