VICTORIA -- The federal government has given the green light for cruise lines to return to Canadian waters starting in November.

Previously, the federal government said that cruise ships would be banned until at least February 2022.

Now, cruises will be able to dock in Canada if they can meet all federal health requirements starting Nov. 1, 2021, according to federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

"As Canadians have done their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to safely restart our economy and build back better," said said Alghabra, in a release Thursday.

"We will welcome cruise ships — an important part of our tourism sector — back in Canadian waters for the 2022 season."

Alghabra acknowledged that the federal government previously said that cruise ships would not be allowed back into the country until 2022 while speaking at a news conference Thursday.

However, he said that Canadians' "extraordinary work" during the pandemic, including high vaccination rates, means that the federal government is comfortable with accelerating its timeline.

Alghabra noted that by reopening ports in 2021, cruise lines can prepare for a full 2022 season in Canada. He added that the Nov. 1 start date also aligns with U.S. cruise plans.

While the federal government is lifting some restrictions in the fall, Alghabra says Canada is still currently advising that Canadians do not travel on cruise ships outside of the country.

"We must remain vigilant," said Alghabra, adding that the pandemic is "not over."

Cruises have been barred from docking in Canadian ports since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ban was a blow to the $4-billion industry that generates approximately 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the federal government.

"Our local economy has definitely taken a hit, but thanks to residents shopping local and supporting their friends and neighbours businesses, many businesses are still making it work," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in a statement Thursday.

"My thanks to the federal government for doing the necessary work to keep Canadians safe during the pandemic, but also for understanding how much the cruise industry means to the entire South Island and for making this announcement today to give predictability and certainty to the industry going forward," she said.

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming adds that the provincial government is excited about welcoming cruise ships back to the region.

Fleming says the move is "based on science and evidence" and that the cruise industry will help the B.C.'s economy rebound from the pandemic.

WILL CRUISE SHIPS ACTUALLY ARRIVE IN CANADA THIS YEAR?

Canada's transport minister says he believes it's unlikely that large cruise lines will actually dock in Canada at the end of the year.

Instead, Alghabra says Thursday's announcement simply provides certainty for large cruise lines that they can return to Canada in 2022 as they plan their international schedules.

Alghabra notes that some smaller, more flexible cruise operators may arrive in Canada by the end of 2021.

Both the federal and provincial transport ministers say they're working hard to ensure that U.S. cruise lines will return to Canadian ports, after the United States passed legislation that would temporarily allow cruises to bypass foreign ports amid the pandemic.

In May, the U.S. passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which allows American cruise lines to temporarily bypass Canadian ports. Previously, U.S. cruises were required to dock in at least one foreign port between two American ports.

Since then, bills have been proposed to make that legislation permanent.

Alghabra says the federal government is working with partners in the U.S. to ensure that the cruise industry returns to "business as usual" next year.

B.C.'s transportation minister added that Thursday's announcement should alleviate some U.S. concerns about a prolonged cruise ship ban in Canada. Though he said it was difficult to speculate on the future of American politics.

Alghabra says the federal government is still working with its health experts, and B.C. health officials, on narrowing down what health requirements will be in place for cruise lines and travellers.

He says that Canadians should "stay tuned" for details on those health requirements later this year.