New details emerge surrounding Tourism Nanaimo shake-up

By Dominic Abassi
December 7, 2016 - 5:35pm

NANAIMO — Staff at Tourism Nanaimo are being shown the door earlier than originally thought, while a step in the transition process has caught the attention of the union representing those staff.

Canadian Union of Public Employees local 401 president Blaine Gurrie confirms the five staff members at Tourism Nanaimo were given their layoff notices on Wednesday, notifying them their jobs will be ending Jan. 31, 2017. It had previously been announced that funding for Tourism Nanaimo would remain in place until March 31, 2017.

It has also been revealed that Tourism Vancouver Island (TVI) played a role in writing Nanaimo's application for Destination BC funding. That work, according to TVI president Dave Petryk, was done for free and happened before council had approved their inclusion in the official Tourism Nanaimo transition plan.

"It's truly problematic if that's the case," said Gurrie. "Employers shouldn't be allowing volunteers to assume our work, no matter what...we have some collective agreement provisions that require them to pay fair wage for the work that they did. Whether they did it for free or not, they're still going to have to pay the employee who did that work the same rate of pay we would've had."

At a public meeting on Nov. 28, council approved most of the pieces in a staff recommended transition plan, which among other things, called for TVI to take over destination marketing and development services for the city. The transition plan was needed because council previously made a decision to stop funding Tourism Nanaimo, through the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, as of the end of March, 2017.

Destination BC offers a co-op marketing program where tourism bodies can apply for matching funds for various destination marketing campaigns. Last year a proposal written by Tourism Nanaimo staff hauled in nearly $200,000 in funding to match local contributions. The deadline to apply for 2017 funding was Nov. 30.

A source tells NanaimoNewsNOW that it was dictated to Tourism Nanaimo staff by a city of Nanaimo staff member that they would not be writing this year's application, but rather TVI would be taking over the process. The source says although existing staff were not involved in the process of writing this year's application, they were asked for some information during the process and did not even see the final proposal that was sent off.

That information is backed up by Leif Bogwald, owner of Vancouver Island Expeditions and a member of the soon-to-be disbanded Nanaimo Tourism Leadership Committee. When asked about the claims, Bogwald says that's consistent with the information he has heard.

"It speaks to me that they've picked who they want and they've picked who's going to be doing the work and it seems that TVI has been involved for quite some time, which is news to us," said Gurrie.

The city's communications manager Philip Cooper, who authored the tourism transition plan report, was contacted about the claims, but declined to comment. He directed questions to acting-NEDC chief executive officer Amrit Manhas.

Manhas denies the claim that staff were told they wouldn't be handling the Destination BC application. She says it was conversations with staff that led her to believe they wouldn't have time to complete the application and needed help. Staff was involved all the way through the process, according to Manhas.

The assertion that staff needed help getting the application done is despite the fact personnel and staffing levels are unchanged from last year, when a very successful application was written.

Petryk says with the transition that was going on at Tourism Nanaimo, it appeared there was a gap in being able to get an application done in time for the deadline, so his group offered to help put it together. He says they had input from staff towards their application for about $180,000 in matching funds. Petryk says the work done in creating the application was "pro bono" and there is still no official agreement between TVI and the city for any services to be provided.

Gurrie says it looks like the city of Nanaimo has been dictating to NEDC what they want to see happen.

"That's the feeling I've gotten from my discussions with people involved in NEDC, including John (fired CEO John Hankins). This is a pre-determined outcome and it's been pushed down the pipeline. I'm not sure why, we're not getting a lot of feedback from anybody," he said.

"We have a significant problem with the idea of laying off five people who performed tourism for Nanaimo in order to transfer all that money to another agency where we're not going to have anywhere near the same level of service for approximately the same amount of money," said Gurrie.

Petryk says TVI plans on using a blend of their existing staff and adding 2.5 additional full-time equivalent employees to handle the Tourism Nanaimo contract. He says laid off Nanaimo staff are welcome to apply for what would likely be a temporary job.

It's still undecided who will handle staffing the Northfield Road Visitor Centre once Tourism Nanaimo staff are off the job at the end of January.

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