Rene Levesque now says it's all right for Les Quebecois to visit here and at other U.S. resorts, calling off his government's year-long campaign against Canadians leaving home on vacation.
Levesque, premier of Quebec Province, has reversed his controversial stand on international tourism, and industry officials in New York and Maine, the states most popular with Canadians, couldn't be happier.
Viginia Merrill, director of the Plattsbury Chamber of Commerce, says the Lake Champlain area "was definitely hurt by last year's ban." However, 1977 was a bad weather year "so part of the decrease may have been due to that," she adds.
Levesque's government, which is pledged to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada, launched a compaign last year aimed at keeping Canadian dollars at home and out of Plattsbury and Old Orchard Beach, Me. The two areas have become traditional holiday stomping grounds for the French-speaking Canadians.
The $400,000 in-province ad campaign named Plattsbury and Old Orchard specifically, a strategy Mary Tousignant of Old Orchard says backfired.
Tousignant, a local tourism promoter, explains, "That whole compaign just recalled positive experiences people had in the United States. It put our name in their mind. It also encouraged people who are Levesque's political opponents to defy his plea that they stay home."
In a statement last month, the prime minister said that Canadians who come to the U.S. "may do so without remorse."
Tourism officials in New York State couldn't agree more. They say vacationeers bring $5.1 billion there, making tourism the state's second ranking industry.
Edward Roeder of the State Department of Commerce in Albany says "any statement saying they can come here is positive. In terms of the devalued dollar, it's going to help our state." Canadians receive 80 to 85 U.S. cents per Canadian dollar when exchanging currency.
"We're glad that Levesque finally relented a bit, but what impact that has will be hard to measure. They many be coming here now because of 'I Love New York,'" Roeder adds.
I Love New York is a million-dollar, state-sponsored ad campaign aimed at drawing visitors from neighboring states and Canada. The slick television commercials feature famous places and faces, each declaring "I love New York." The advertising blitz has sent New England and the Canadian government scrambling fo similar gimmicks. Canada has started its own media retaliation, and the six New England states are negotiating a pact for regional promotion.
Merrill of Plattsburg adds, "Our area is most convenient for the Canadians because we're just 60 miles from Montreal. We have Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains of Vermont and lake Placid just 35 miles away.
"And because they come down, we've built shopping malls where they can buy things priced way below what's found in Montreal. That kind of development wouldn't be here without the Canadian tourist."
She called Levesque "a very controversial man, very involved with preserving the French culture in his province. When they come here, the people from Quebec are forced to speak English. I'm sure he thinks that erodes their culture and Americanizes the French Canadians."
Many Canadians are becoming increasingly resentful of America's presence in their industry, and the Canadian media and government officials are concerned about their nation's trade balance with the states.
Plattsburg is the closest American resort, but Quebecers must go to Old Orchard Beach to find the Atlantic. Business people there speak French, and road signs and menus are bilingual.
Old Orchard town manager Jerome Plante says tourism is his town's only business. Although 90 percent of the tourists are from Quebec, he says the relationship between his community and the Canadians "is something more than economic. Many of our citizens are transplanted from Quebec and they treat visitors with great affection. Many generations of families come here."