Kingston tourism and economic agencies petition feds over LaSalle Causeway closure

Work continues on the LaSalle Causeway bascule bridge on the morning of Wednesday, May 15, 2024, with the Wolfe Islander IV in the background. Photo by Aerosnapper Kingston.

After voicing alarm over the impacts of the unplanned, prolonged closure of the LaSalle Causeway, a number of Kingston-based tourism and economic development agencies have come together to put pressure on the federal government.

The Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Kingston, the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA), Kingston Economic Development Corporation, and the Kingston Accommodation Partners jointly started a petition on the week starting Monday, May 13, 2024. In short, the petition is to “urge” Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) — the federal agency that oversees the operations and maintenance of the LaSalle Causeway — to fast-track operations to free up the vessels currently trapped in Kingston’s Inner Harbour.

“Between intermittent shutdowns from February to March and the full closure starting on April 2nd, the impact of the [LaSalle] Causeway has been felt by stakeholders across the region. Now, as we approach the Victoria Day weekend, those impacts increase,” the petition opens.

Going on to say that businesses and attractions on both sides of the causeway are already “suffering economic losses,” the petition points to Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises, whose vessels Island Belle and Island Star are inaccessible, and to St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, whose Canadian Empress — the business’s sole ship — is locked in the Inner Harbour. It then states that both local and tourist traffic to Fort Henry from Kingston’s west end, and to the downtown core from the city’s east end, have been “severely affected,” resulting in a “projected $4 million in lost direct revenue related to economic activity in accommodations, dining, and shopping.”

“This culminates in an estimated $15 million economic impact to Kingston’s economy. Our community is left with no short-term support for the issues at hand, and little information regarding the long-term plans around government investment or improvement of this vital infrastructure,” the petition reads.

The local agencies conclude that the petition was created to “raise community stakeholder voices and urge PSPC and its contractors to work directly with local industry leaders to [expedite] a solution that will allow marine traffic to safely traverse the Causeway on or before May 24.”

Kingstonist reached out to all of the organizations behind the petition, as well as the two cruise lines referenced in it, to find out what led to the creation of the petition and what they hope to see as a result — both from the public and from the federal government.

“We feel it is important to put together, along with our partners, a petition to circulate widely among our members and the community. We continue to work together to gather data that outlines the true economic impact of the closure and delays, and communicating these impacts and the full picture to the federal government is important. The government needs to understand the daily challenges on the ground, as well as the massive ripple effect this is having,” said Krista LeClair, Executive Director of Kingston Accommodation Partners.

LeClair noted that PSPC, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of Tourism have been “briefed many times to date on these impacts.”

“However, action continues to be very slow, and transparency is lacking. As we move later into May and through June, the tourism economy in Kingston will feel this impact grow from $20 million to hundreds of millions of dollars, including lost jobs and permanent business closures, and these impacts will be felt for years to come,” she continued.

“Moving slowly, inaction, and apathy for these struggling businesses is not acceptable. We hope that the community will support by participating in the petition and writing to their MP.”

Donna Gillespie, Executive Director of Kingston Economic Development Corporation, said the agencies that support local businesses felt the need to “raise the urgency and impact of the LaSalle Causeway closure.”

“The extended timelines to identify the structural issues and plan repairs goes beyond an inconvenience for travelers but has a dire impact on a number of local businesses — specifically the cruise line industry with stranded vessels unable to operate. With prime tourism season beginning later this month, we want to ensure that the Ministry of Transportation understands that this is an emergency situation which is resulting in lost business and job layoffs,” she said.

“I appreciate the need for a safe reopening of the Causeway and hope the PSPC can work at the speed of business.”

Similarly, Megan Knott, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tourism Kingston, pointed to the economic impacts of the situation, as well as to specific layoffs that are currently occurring. She said the petition was put together as a means of “collecting feedback to measure the economic impact to the community as well as gain feedback from a resident and visitor perspective on how this closure has and continues to affect them collectively.”

“We would like to ensure that the federal government knows that the current economic impact of this closure is now over $20 million and counting. We just had one of the companies whose boats are located on the other side of the harbour lay off 20 staff today,” Knott said.

“We need government to act now, support these businesses with current lost and future revenue, and find solutions to free these vessels. We encourage everyone to fill out the petition as well as write to their local MP to share their concerns.”

Cruise boats moored at the Kingston Marina within Kingston’s Inner Harbour in late April 2024. Photo by Daniel Tastard-Homer/Kingstonist.

Like Knott, Marijo Cuerrier, Executive Director of the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA), said that while the petition might appear to be seeking signatures solely from businesses, that is not the case: anyone can sign it, she said.

“March pedestrian counts were up from last year by 15 per cent. The LaSalle Causeway closed on April 1 and pedestrian counts have dropped below last year by an average of eight per cent. Add those losses up and it’s a significant hit to foot traffic in the downtown core, which ultimately translates to the bottom line for the businesses that rely on foot traffic,” Cuerrier said.

“Thankfully, our streets are pretty busy even with the reduction of traffic, but for small businesses to continue to endure hardship will be a make-or-break decision for some.”

On the other side of things, Daniel Beals, Marketing and Human Resources Director for St. Lawrence Cruise Lines, expressed gratitude to the organizations behind the petition amid the task of communicating with 20 employees his company is currently laying off — a stark example of the reality of the situation. He said St. Lawrence Cruise Lines is “very appreciative of the support and the effort” the tourism and economic development agencies are demonstrating.

“These organizations understand that the loss of marine traffic is not just a loss to our individual businesses… it is a community loss of tourism dollars, tourism jobs, and we have lost the ability to promote ourselves as a tourism destination during this time,” said Beals.

“We hope that individuals will come to understand that the ongoing construction delays are going to cost up to $20 million in economic loss to the greater community. That is not acceptable, and we need to demand better from the federal government. That isn’t a loss that can be paid for with a footpath or a bike path over the causeway this summer.”

Neither Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises (a division of the Kingston Destination Group), nor the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce responded to Kingstonist inquiries by time of publication.

Asked what he will do to assist in getting the petition officially recognized and apply pressure to the federal government (and specifically PSPC), Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, relayed a response through his communications teams. Gerretsen said that he is “happy to present any petition to parliament as long as it meets the requirements of the House of Commons.”

The petition urging PSPC to ensure the vessels trapped within Kingston’s Inner Harbour are freed up by Friday, May 24, 2024, can be read and signed here.

One thought on “Kingston tourism and economic agencies petition feds over LaSalle Causeway closure

  • I have to assume that it would not be possible for the trapped boats to go up the canal to the Ottawa river and down to the St. Lawrence. Maybe the locks are too small?

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