British Columbia

Changes to U.S. rules allowing cruise ships to bypass B.C. ports remain temporary but that could change

British Columbia's premier says legislation proposed in the United States that would scrap a long-standing requirement for American cruise ships to dock at a foreign port between domestic stops doesn't change the fact people want to visit B.C.

U.S. House of Representatives passed laws to that effect in May but U.S. senator wants to make it permanent

The Emerald Princess docked in Vancouver March 29, 2019. The cancellation of the cruise ship season is expected to be discussed at a premiers' meeting on the U.S. border issue next week. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

British Columbia's premier says legislation proposed in the United States that would scrap a long-standing requirement for American cruise ships to dock at a foreign port between domestic stops doesn't change the fact people want to visit B.C.

John Horgan says the "machinations of U.S. politics'' on a given day don't change the draw for people to travel up B.C.'s coast and he doesn't believe there's anything the provincial government can do about decisions made in the U.S. Senate.

Horgan told a news conference that he's passionate about making sure B.C. can welcome visitors once pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted, but he doesn't "regret not yelling louder at people who would not have been listening.''

Utah Sen. Mike Lee has introduced three bills to repeal and reform the 135-year-old Passenger Vessel Services Act, saying in a statement this week that it's an "outdated, protectionist law'' that benefits Canada and harms American jobs.

U.S. legislation allows ships to bypass B.C. ports

International cruise ships are banned in Canadian waters until the end of next February due to the pandemic and the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation last month that allows the ships to bypass B.C. ports until that restriction is lifted.

Horgan says he spoke Thursday with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was behind the legislation, and she assured him the law only applied until Canada lifts its restrictions, while Lee's proposed changes would not be temporary.

"We're in a global pandemic. The United States, on a good day, is difficult to a govern,'' Horgan said Friday.

"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 says about 1.7 million people came in on cruise ships every year to Vancouver and Victoria.

Industry push to rescind cruise ship ban

Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Ian Robertson said B.C. can't take for granted that U.S. cruise ship passengers will always want to visit the province.

"Absolutely, that's the case with many other tours and many other parts of the tourism economy, but cruise is very, very different,'' he said in an interview.

Some passengers sailing from Seattle to Alaska don't even know they're set to stop in Victoria until they get their itineraries, he added.

Robertson said Canadian and B.C. officials can do more to address what he called an urgent situation facing an industry that contributes significantly to the economy.

"I know that talking to cruise line officials, you know, they feel that perhaps their business is not wanted in Canada,'' he said.

"With the industry bringing $2.7 billion to British Columbia, you can't take that lightly.''



Robertson said he's written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on Ottawa to rescind the ban on cruise ships this fall and announce the change immediately to send a positive signal to the industry that they will be welcome.

He'd like Horgan to publicly support that call for reopening Canadian waters and wants to see the provincial government work closely with the cruise ship industry on efforts to build back Canada's reputation as a cruise destination, Robertson said.

Asked about Lee's proposal, Transport Canada said in a statement the government understands that the cruise ship industry has been hard hit by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and it has been working with public health officials, provinces and territories, industry and other stakeholders to reassess measures.

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