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

Cruise blues: Harbour authority frets as Alaskan cruise ships set to bypass Victoria

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: Seattle-Alaska cruise ships gear up to bypass B.C. ports this summer

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

Cruise ShipsTourism

Just Posted

An old growth cedar stands in a cut-block within the Caycuse Valley. More than 100 prominent Canadians, have signed an open letter calling for the immediate protection of all remaining old-growth forests in B.C. (Submitted)
Brian Mulroney and Greta Thunberg among 100 celebrities pushing to save B.C. old growth

List includes Indigenous leaders, scientists, authors, Oscar winners

This conceptual rendering shows revisions to the proposed warehouse in Sidney on land under the authority of the Victoria Airport Authority. York Realty, which plans to build, then lease the building, said significant changes to the the massing and height of the building respond to community feedback. Additional feedback can be submitted until June 30. (Screencap/York Realty)
Sidney warehouse proposal lands Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce endorsement

Public has until June 30 to submit additional comments after significant modifications

COVID-19 exposures have been reported at Colquitz Middle School and Tillicum Elementary School, both on June 14. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Two Saanich schools report COVID-19 exposures

Exposures reported at Colquitz Middle School and Tillicum Elementary School

Sooke RCMP seized cocaine, ketamine, MDMA, prescription pills, $6,000 cash, a machete and pepper spray during a bust June 15. (Courtesy of Sooke RCMP)
Sooke RCMP seize drugs, machete, pepper spray

Man arrested near Evergreen Mall following drug deal

An eastern cottontail rabbit on the UVic campus. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)
Wild rabbits persist at the University of Victoria

Feral rabbits are still absent, but another non-native species has arrived on campus

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of June 15

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Himalayan Life helped finance the construction of Nepal’s Yangri Academic Centre and dormitories after a 2015 earthquake devastated the valley, killing more than 9,000 people. (Screen grab/Peter Schaeublin)
B.C. charity founder pledges to rebuild Nepalese school swept away by flash floods

Six years after an earthquake killed more than 9,000 people, Nepal faces another catastrophy

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

Most Read