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

Nanaimo is the first city in Canada to subscribe to the Chonolog environment photo-monitoring system, which allow residents to contribute photos of habitat restoration projects that are converted to time lapse sequences showing environmental changes. (Chris Bush/ News Bulletin)
Nanaimo residents invited to be citizen scientists by sharing habitat restoration photos

Nanaimo first city in Canada to sign up for Chronolog environment photo monitoring service

Regional District of Nanaimo is seeking input from the public for its transit redevelopment strategy. (News Bulletin file)
Public input sought as RDN works on transit redevelopment strategy

RDN wants to know where people want bus stops, shelters and pedestrian and cycling connections

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Nanaimo residents on edge of city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read