At the risk of alienating a good chunk of the country, if one were to embark upon a culinary tour of Canada, it could fairly easily end at Quebec City.
Fishy things in the east, poutine in Quebec. Bam! You’re done. Little that’s new or unique, save, maybe, a pit stop at a Montreal bagel shop. Assuming you downed a donair in Halifax, you wouldn’t need to stop in Edmonton for one, en route to Vancouver where there are more oysters.
If you found a butter tart somewhere, some Tiger Tail ice cream and had a Caesar, it’d be a wrap. (Disclaimer: I am not a food guy. I would happily eat spaghetti every day for the rest of my life. I had to Google most of these items.)
The federal Liberal government, though, is hiring a consultant to come up with a “culinary tourism strategy.” “Canada produces quality local food and beverages from coast to coast to coast,” the government says. What an inspiring statement!
The government notes that good food is a big deal for international travellers and that they spend one-fifth of their money on it. (I mean, duh, a guy’s got to eat three times a day. Of course that’s where their money is going.)
I’m sure good food is a big deal to travellers. Canada does have plenty of good food, and I have no doubt that’s because of a wonderfully diverse population. In any given part of Ottawa, you can find excellent ramen, a decent steakhouse and (I’m assuming here; I hate most fish, so have never looked) a halfway OK slab of something that was recently ocean-dwelling.
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The government’s very own press release says the food industry “generates $75 billion in annual sales and employs more than 1.2 million Canadians,” which, if you aren’t a partisan trying to ruthlessly extend the reach of government, sounds like a sector of the economy that absolutely could promote its own strategy, without any help from the taxpayer.
But what is the government actually going to try to promote through its tourism strategy? It says culinary tourism is an “exciting new trend” that includes “food trails, agro-tourism (i.e., visiting agricultural regions), vineyard or brewery tours, and taste-of-place experiences, where tourists visit a venue such as a restaurant, market or food festival.”
Yeah, word is we’ve got good wine (yuck!), and my fancy beer-drinking friends tell me we have good craft beer (PBR is good enough for me; so’s the price point). But booze doesn’t need government help to sell.
Now, Alberta beef is famous, in terms of “agro-tourism” opportunities. I’ve been to a ranch. They ain’t pretty, and they smell like, well, cows. (Vacation tip: Avoid destinations that smell like manure.)
And there are venues, such as a food festival or restaurant. A Food Network list of “iconic Canadian foods” includes Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken. That had better not get promoted through anything that has come remotely close to taxpayer money.
The secret to these little marketing projects is that if the government really needs to shill for something, it’s neither worth selling or buying. I’m sure people enjoy what they eat in Canada, but industry, cities, tourism councils, whatever, are perfectly capable of making these pitches. I’d hazard to say, even as someone who’d prefer that his meals came in pill form, Canadian cuisine is good enough to not need government help.
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The federal government, which can’t pull itself together and buy fighter jets, is going to make, well, a hash of a culinary strategy.
And besides, you just know at the end of all this, an immigration officer is going to hand incoming visitors a pamphlet showing them where every Tim Hortons is in the darn country.
Culinary tourism-by-government. It’s enough to give a taxpayer indigestion.
Tyler Dawson is deputy editorial pages editor of the Ottawa Citizen.