TORONTO - Rich in history, arts, culture, recreation, and of course, exceptional wineries, Niagara-on-the- Lake (NOTL) is generally considered one of the most beautiful towns in the country. An area heavily reliant on tourism, Covid-19 has created unprecedented challenges for municipalities in the Niagara Region. Corriere Canadese discussed some of the economic impacts the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake has suffered in the wake of Covid-19 with Lord Mayor Betty Disero. Virus- induced stress on the rise everywhere has not dulled her welcoming charm.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has a total of 49 cases since the start of the pandemic. Ontario is in the “second wave” of Covid-19. What is the status of cases in Niagara- on-the-Lake? “Throughout the pandemic, we have managed to keep cases fairly low. In July, there was a small outbreak, but with contact tracing we were able to stop it from spreading into the community. Right now, I believe we have 2 new cases. We have three Long-Term Care facilities and they all have remained outbreak free. This is also the case among our farming community".
I am sure there is a delicate balance between keeping the community safe and welcoming new visitors. How has Covid-19 impacted the local economy? “Our economy is hugely tourism based. The temporary closures of the Canada/US border to international visitors has been devastating for our businesses and wineries. During the lockdown, the Province permitted take-out and curbside pick-up. Thankfully, our wineries were able to continue to sell their world-famous wines".
On average, 33% of visitors to the Region are international. How has the border closure impacted the flow of visitors through the area? “We have a population of about 18,000 people. Every year, we welcome an average of 2.5 million visitors to the Town, as many as 6 million to the outlet mall in Glendale. This year we have taken a bit hit on our tourism recovery."
The SHAW Festival Theatre plays a major role in Arts and Culture as a tourism draw, what does the cancellation of the season mean for the theatre and the performers? “It has been crushing. The Federal Government has contributed $400 thousand in funds to the Shaw Festival. The funds have proved helpful in creating outdoor theatre spaces for continued performances, following provincial guidelines. This way, the actors remain employed and are keeping audiences entertained".
What steps has your Council taken to help support local businesses and services? “The Town is working together better than ever. Our Shop Local campaign, encourages residents to shop and dine locally. The Town is rich in character and offers a variety of products and services to satisfy a wide range of interests. For the Holiday season, the creation of a digital directory, free of charge, for all local businesses will encourage the “Online shopping” movement. An investment of $500 thousand from the Federal Government for small-medium sized businesses will help applicable enterprises offset the costs of reopening and adapting to Covid- 19".
Surely, as municipalities across the province face deficits in the wake of Covid-19, should residents expect a cut in services and a rise in taxes? “The Town is reliant on revenue from parking which has taken a big hit this year. The $500 thousand from the Province will assist with the deficit. Staff have been able to shift some things around and put off some capital projects to come up with another $500 thousand in savings. We are hoping to mitigate the losses we had this year so as not to have an impact on the taxes for 2021".
You still have relatives in Toronto, yet, you speak of Niagara-on- the-Lake as a special place. Why? “Our natural, cultural and historic heritage is our symbol and identity; it is who we are. No matter where you go, there is something special to see among the five distinct villages nestled in beautiful vineyards. Yes, it is a popular place to visit and for people looking to retire. More young families are looking for a place to raise their children in a smaller town atmosphere. What better place than Niagara-on-the- Lake?".