Osborne for business: new municipal minister Josie Osborne details her focus on tourism

By Shannon Waters December 2, 2020

The NDP’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne may be new to provincial politics, but she is no stranger to provincial issues, having spent the past seven years representing one of B.C.’s most popular tourist destinations — the Pacific Coast haven of Tofino.

She made the jump into provincial politics following the retirement of ex-NDP cabinet minister Scott Fraser. Osborne’s successful bid for the Mid-Island—Pacific Rim riding was one of the first races called on election night.

BC Today interviewed Osborne the day before her appointment as municipal affairs minister.

At the time, Osborne said her plan in government is to make sure “that small business voice is heard.”

A marine biologist and resource manager by training, Osborne was raised on Vancouver Island and first moved to Tofino in 1998 to work as a fisheries biologist for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. She ran, unopposed, for mayor of Tofino under the Green Party banner in a 2014 byelection and led the municipality until stepping down on November 18, 2020.

This spring, as B.C. began to reopen following its initial pandemic shutdown, Osborne pushed the province to provide local governments with specific guidance for how to work with businesses to abide by provincial Covid restrictions.

“I have direct experience working with businesses, living in a town that is so reliant on small businesses, and understanding the day-to-day challenges that they’re facing,” she told BC Today.

As municipal affairs minister, Osborne will be responsible for ensuring communities have the resources they need to survive the pandemic; the top item in her ministerial mandate letter directs her to work with the Union of BC Municipalities and local elected leaders to “support their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery.”

Osborne is also tasked with working with the finance minister and the attorney general to find a way to “provide relief for commercial tenants with triple-net leases” — lease agreements where the tenant is responsible for property costs including “high property taxes.”

Osborne said most B.C. businesses are “bending over backwards” to abide by provincial requirements and the effort is costing them.

In tourism-dependent communities, like her Tofino home, Osborne expects economic recovery is likely to be slow with provincial support “absolutely critical” to ensuring small businesses survive.

Capable handling of the pandemic will be key to ensuring tourists return to B.C. as soon as it is safe to do so, Osborne said, but it could be years before tourism is “the force that it was before.”

The rookie minister will oversee the rollout of a new provincial funding stream — the Strengthening Community Fund — which will offer local governments support to “tackle street disorder, cleanliness and public safety.”

She will also have a hand in realizing the NDP’s housing priorities, such as addressing the “needs of people experiencing homelessness, including those living in encampments,” per the premier’s mandate letter.