British Columbia

B.C. cruise industry sounds alarm over proposed U.S. laws allowing ships to skip Canadian ports

Legislation would allow cruise ships to permanently bypass B.C. ports; Greater Victoria Harbour Authority urge provincial leaders to ensure it never sees the light of day.

Legislation would allow cruise ships to permanently bypass B.C. ports; harbour authorities hope it gets axed

Princess Cruises' Emerald Princess arrives at Canada Place in Vancouver in the early hours of March 29, 2019. Proposed legislation in the United States would allow ships to permanently skip B.C. ports when en route to Alaska. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

A proposed U.S. law that would allow cruise ships to permanently bypass B.C. ports has industry leaders calling on the province to ensure the legislation never sees the light of day.

The Tribal Tourism Sovereignty Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Alaskan congressman Don Young earlier this summer, would allow cruise ships to circumvent federal laws requiring foreign ships to make an international stopover — meaning cruises could travel directly from Seattle to Alaska without stopping in B.C.

Under the legislation, ships could instead stop at Alaska ports owned by local Indigenous tribes, which would be considered a foreign stopover.

The legislation was introduced as a way to protect the Alaskan economy from future disruptions to the cruise ship season after Canada closed its ports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to both a press release from Don Young and an op-ed he penned in the Vancouver Sun.

"It could be very damaging," said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. "We need to take this legislation very seriously."

Robertson says the province needs to work with the cruise ship industry "to lobby to Washington to do what we can to make sure this legislation does not get passed."

Before the pandemic, the cruise industry contributed an estimated $2.5 billion each year to B.C.'s economy, supporting hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs across the province.

Victoria's Ogden Point cruise ship terminal sits next to the James Bay neighbourhood. Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, says the port could lose the majority of its cruise ship visits should the legislation pass. (Greater Victoria Harbour Authority/Facebook)

Temporary waiver

In an effort to save Alaska's summer cruise season earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a bill which allowed Alaska-bound ships to travel directly between the State of Washington and Alaska.

Before the pandemic and under the Passenger Vessel Services Act, Alaska-bound ships would have to spend a day in Vancouver or Victoria, bringing in significant tourism revenue to B.C.'s economy.

The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act was introduced as a way to sidestep Canadian restrictions against cruise ship travel between the two states for the 2021 summer season. The temporary act was signed into law by president Joe Biden on May 24 — defying earlier skepticism that it would pass from provincial lawmakers.

Robertson said it was a warning signal that wasn't taken seriously by the provincial government at the time.

"I would like to think the provincial government has learned from the mistakes made in the past," he said. "I'd like to see the premier engaged on this issue as it's important that we need his leadership to ensure that this legislation does not see the light of day."

The cruise ship industry in B.C. contributes more than $2.5 billion to the economy. (The Canadian Press)

Impact on port cities

Robertson says Vancouver would be relatively insulated from the legislative change, given that it's a homeport where cruises begin and end their journey.

Meanwhile, cities like Victoria, Nanaimo and Prince Rupert are typically stopover destinations and would see a fraction of the cruise ship traffic they normally do should the legislation pass, Robertson said.

"At the end of the day, cruising to Alaska is about Alaska," he said. "I'd be concerned we'd see a significant majority of our ship calls in Victoria disappear were this legislation to go through."

In a statement, B.C.'s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure said the new proposal was concerning and that the province is taking it seriously.

"We are in the midst of a federal election and we'll be meeting urgently with whomever forms government next week to get them to engage immediately with the United States and assert Canada's interests in Washington, D.C.," wrote Minister Rob Fleming.

Ports are expected to reopen in November.

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