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A north-of-the-border political push

NMMA Canada holds an ABC-like summit on Parliament Hill to bring boating’s case to lawmakers

NMMA Canada held its first summit on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill this year, launching an undertaking similar to that occurring in the United States: educating lawmakers about the industry’s economic impact and reinforcing its importance to tourism, manufacturing and the overall economy.

“Canadians have a great passion for boating, but there hasn’t been a lot of exposure for us to governments,” says Sara Anghel, executive director of NMMA Canada. “I’ve spent the last several years on our Hill, saying, ‘Did you know boating has a $26 billion impact to Canada’s economy?’ Suddenly light bulbs are coming on, and they’re wanting to know what they can do to support that.”

Anghel likened the May event to a “mini-ABC,” referring to the American Boating Congress. About 130 people came and learned about the impact of boats and the number of boating accessories manufactured in Canada. “Now they’re coming back to us and saying, ‘What do you need from us? What can we do to help you?’ ” Anghel says. “And we told them, ‘What we need for you to do is create policy at the federal level to allow manufacturers to more easily do business.’ ”

The U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council, created last year by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is part of an effort to go beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement to move goods more freely across the border. It does such things as streamline standards on life jackets.

Canada, the largest importer of U.S.-made boats, has slightly different capacity standards and requirements, Anghel says. When a U.S. builder sells a boat to a Canadian dealer, the boat has to have a Canadian capacity sticker that may differ from the U.S. Coast Guard sticker. “It’s the same boat, but in Canada only 10 people can be on the boat, but in the U.S. it’s 12 people, so that causes inconveniences for consumers if they’re stopped by law enforcement,” Anghel says. “It gets burdensome and costly for both the U.S. and Canada. Hopefully, this new cooperation will eventually align those structure standards so a boat is the same on both sides of the border.”

NMMA Canada also is appealing to the Federal Tourism Strategy, which was formed by the Canadian government as part of its effort to coordinate the work of various federal agencies. Though activities such as snowmobiling have received allocations to keep trails manicured, for example, boating has been left out of the funds. “We’re trying to get them to notice that recreational boating accounts for a fairly significant piece of the tourism pie,” Anghel says. That way, she says, some of those tourism funds could be allocated to ensuring that adequate access and docking are available for visitors.

Cuts in the Parks Canada budget had resulted in a reduction in the hours that locks would be opened for boat passage. Anghel made it her mission to show lawmakers that appealing to tourists on boats, only to have them get stuck on one side of a lock for a few days, would be detrimental to the industry. To cover the shortfall, boaters might be required to pay $10 for a sticker for passage, Anghel says, something she doesn’t see as an issue because many recreational sports supported by government funds, such as snowmobiling, also require registration stickers.

Canada’s economy, though it dipped slightly in 2009, has remained relatively strong, which has helped U.S. boatbuilders, says Anghel, particularly as European economic problems drag on. That makes it especially important for the NMMA to maintain a strong presence before both governments, she says, to help ensure a painless process as people in the two countries do business together.

“With the announcement of our statistical abstract for Canada, which was a big deal for us, we’re starting to be noticed more by the U.S.,” Anghel says. “I think there’s a great opportunity for U.S. manufacturers here and for Canada, as well. I see myself working to help Canadian manufacturers, but we are one NMMA family, so I’m working to help U.S. builders, too.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.

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