'We cannot afford to play roulette': Victoria harbour CEO calls on feds to end cruise ship ban early
Published Friday, June 11, 2021 10:36AM PDT Last Updated Friday, June 11, 2021 6:57PM PDT
VICTORIA -- The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) is calling on Ottawa to end its ban on foreign cruise ships in Canadian ports by this fall.
The current Transport Canada order prevents cruise ships from docking in Canadian ports until at least Feb. 28, 2022, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Victoria harbour CEO Ian Robertson says the future of British Columbia’s $2.7-billion cruise industry is in jeopardy now that a temporary U.S. law allowing cruise ships to bypass Canada on their way to Alaska could become permanent.
Robertson is asking Transport Canada to announce that its current ban on cruise ships calling on Canadian ports will end by the fall, creating enough regulatory certainty to allow the industry to return to full operation in 2022.
“Cruise lines need time to prepare for the full resumption of cruise and the Government of Canada, through Transport Canada, needs to signal that they are prepared to welcome the industry back in a safe and measured way,” said Robertson in a statement Friday.
“We continue to work with the provincial government and industry partners to ask Transport Canada to confirm that cruise is welcome back to Canada,” Robertson added.
The harbour CEO said a decision to allow cruise ships back in Canada should be announced in conjunction with the reopening of the Canada-U.S. border to travellers.
“We cannot afford to play roulette with something that is such a vital economic lifeline for our province,” said Robertson.
Earlier this week, a U.S. senator tabled three bills that would allow American cruise ships to permanently bypass Canada and other foreign ports.
Under the current U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act, American cruise lines must dock at a foreign port between two U.S. ports.
Legislation passed in May, called the "Alaska Tourism Restoration Act," allowed U.S. cruises to temporarily forgo this requirement due to COVID-19, as countries like Canada continue to ban cruises from docking.
"This arcane law benefits Canada, Mexico, and other countries who receive increased maritime traffic, at the expense of American workers in our coastal cities, towns, and ports," said Utah Sen. Mike Lee in a statement Thursday.
B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming responded Thursday, telling CTV News he's aware of the proposed legislation and has requested "urgent meetings" with Canadian and U.S. officials.
"The temporary measure passed in the U.S. was designed to support Alaska’s economy while Canada’s ports were not welcoming visitors," said Fleming in a statement Thursday. "This new proposed legislation is of greater concern to British Columbia and Canadians."
‘I DON’T REGRET NOT YELLING LOUDER,’ HORGAN SAYS
B.C. Premier John Horgan weighed in on the issue during a news conference Friday, telling reporters there was nothing more his government could or should have done to intervene in the U.S. legislative process.
“For British Columbia and for me to suggest that somehow I could have thrown myself in front of this bus and stopped it is the height of hubris in my mind,” Horgan said, noting that he spoke with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski about the issue as recently as Thursday.
“I don’t believe that there was anything that we could do about what the Senate of the United States does,” the premier added. “I don’t regret not yelling louder at people who would not have been listening, quite frankly.”
Horgan said Fleming continues to hold discussions with the federal government on the issue, adding that the new proposed legislation in the U.S. “is certainly a complicating factor, to be sure, but not one that we could have predicted.”
The premier said he is “confident Canada has got a good handle on this,” nothing the relationship between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden “is a solid one.”
Horgan acknowledged the cruise restrictions put a significant economic cost on the province, estimating that about one million cruise travellers visited Vancouver annually before the pandemic, and approximately 700,000 visitors came to Victoria.