People look on as the Norwegian Bliss en route from Alaska to Seattle makes it’s way towards Ogden Point, in Victoria, B.C., Friday, June 1, 2018. The CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority said he tried to alert Canadian and B.C. politicians to the ramifications of the change that would temporarily allow international cruise ships to bypass B.C. ports. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

People look on as the Norwegian Bliss en route from Alaska to Seattle makes it’s way towards Ogden Point, in Victoria, B.C., Friday, June 1, 2018. The CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority said he tried to alert Canadian and B.C. politicians to the ramifications of the change that would temporarily allow international cruise ships to bypass B.C. ports. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

U.S. cruise law puts B.C. economic impacts at risk: Harbour authority

CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority worries about a temporary measure becoming permanent

When the U.S. House of Representatives swiftly passed legislation amending a historical law that some say could have severe consequences for British Columbia’s port communities, it came as little surprise to Ian Robertson.

The CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority said he tried to alert Canadian and B.C. politicians to the ramifications of the change that would temporarily allow international cruise ships to bypass B.C. ports.

“I must admit it’s been frustrating, we’ve been sounding the alarm for the past few months,” Robertson said.

The proposed legislation passed Thursday applies to cruise ships travelling between Washington state and Alaska and gives them the green light to sail past B.C. ports without stopping, a requirement introduced more than a century ago to protect U.S. shipbuilders and operators.

The amendment is a response to Canada’s ban on cruise ships through February 2022 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the legislation would only last as long.

However, given the estimated $2.7-billion economic impact of the cruise industry on the B.C. coast, Robertson said it feels like a dangerous precedent to set before exploring other options.

“You always worry about a temporary measure becoming permanent,” Robertson said.

Victoria has the most to lose, alongside fellow transit port communities like Nanaimo and Prince Rupert, which benefit from the flood of tourists who spend in their communities during the stops. Vancouver, a “home” port from which passengers start and finish cruises, is more insulated, he said.

The harbour authority wants the federal government to allow “technical calls,” which would see the ships maintain the routine stops without allowing passengers and crew to leave the ship.

At the very least, they should be pushing for reassurances that the U.S. change will remain temporary, he said.

The amendment will become law with President Joseph Biden’s sign-off.

Two Alaskan senators pursued the change. Sen. Dan Sullivan, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he was pleased to see bipartisan, unanimous support in the Senate after running into roadblocks trying to work with Canada.

“We’ve put forward a number of very reasonable suggestions to try to accommodate what we are hoping will be a fighting chance for our tourism season, for our small businesses so decimated by this pandemic to our colleagues in Canada,” he said before the Senate.

“This is not the co-operative spirit that has defined the Alaska-Canadian relationship for decades. Quite frankly, we’ve been disappointed by it.”

In a statement Wednesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s office stood by the cruise ship ban, which he said allows public health officials to focus on more pressing issues.

“With the number of provinces battling a third wave of COVID-19 and the current public health situation, Canada is not at a point to safely resume cruise operations in our waters,” the statement said.

Canada supports U.S. actions requiring that 98 per cent of crew and 95 per cent of passengers be vaccinated. Transport Canada will also reassess measures as the pandemic evolves and review all requests, including technical stops, in consultation with provincial and local health authorities, the statement added.

“Minister Alghabra has spoken a number of times with Senator Sullivan on the importance of cruise ships both to Canada and the United States, and how we can work together to safely welcome cruise ships when both countries are ready to do so,” it said.

After brushing off the legislation as a “blip” that wasn’t likely to pass quickly, B.C. Premier John Horgan said Tuesday he was lining up meetings with U.S. officials to talk about it.

However, the senators who put forward the legislation made clear in their correspondences that it would be a temporary measure until border restrictions are lifted, he added.

“I’m taking great comfort in that, the legislation is specific about that,” Horgan said.

If it would help maintain the industry in B.C. in the long term, he said he is also happy to talk about technical port calls.

The cruise industry’s direct and indirect impacts in Canada totalled more than $4.2 billion in 2019, according to a tally by industry group Cruise Lines International Association.

The pandemic sunk those figures to zero in 2020 and the same losses are expected this year.

Donna Spalding, who works in government affairs and community relations for the Cruise Lines International Association, North West and Canada, said she couldn’t predict if the temporary legislation could become permanent.

Despite being a transit stop, Victoria is considered a “premier” destination and cruise lines consistently hear positive feedback from guests, including that they planned to return, she said.

But it would be up to each cruise line to determine if they saw a benefit in bypassing transit stops, if that were an option beyond the pandemic, she added.

—Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Alaskan cruise ships bypassing B.C. ports could cost province millions

Cruise ShipsTourism

Just Posted

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Saltair man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

(File photo)
Poverty reduction survey identifies 10 poverty themes

Poverty reduction plan will be finalized in July 2021

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly says he has no intentions of leaving the Green Party. (House of Commons image)
Island Green MPs have “no intention” of leaving the party after ‘heartbreaking’ departure

Manly, May only remaining Green MPs after Jenica Atwin left for the Liberals over internal disputes

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A still image from security camera video recorded June 8 shows an individual lighting trash on fire in the doorway of 19+ Cannabis Store on Victoria Crescent. RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue are investigating numerous fires set in downtown Nanaimo in the past three months. (Photo submitted)
‘It’s out of control’: More than 20 fires set in downtown Nanaimo in past 3 months

Authorities asking business owners to keep dumpsters locked

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

Most Read