The head of Victoria's harbour authority says that two U.S. bills aimed at allowing Alaska-bound cruise ships to permanently bypass Canadian ports would have a “devastating” effect on British Columbia’s economy.
“I’m both surprised and disappointed,” Ian Robertson, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, told The Canadian Press on Friday (Sept. 17). “It would be devastating.”
Robertson’s remarks come after Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, on Wednesday (Sept. 15), proposed a bill that would allow Alaska-bound cruise ships carrying more than 1,000 passengers a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act.
But that changed last May when U.S. President Joe Biden signed the "Alaska Tourism Restoration Act,” a law that allowed cruise ships, for instance, to sail from Washington State to Alaska without having to stop in British Columbia.
The Act, essentially, gives cruise ships a way around the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which prohibits foreign-flagged ships from embarking and disembarking passengers at two different U.S. ports without stopping at a foreign port in between.
Prior to the pandemic, Alaska-bound ships departing from Seattle, Washington, for instance, would need to stop in Vancouver or Victoria to satisfy the law.
This workaround was supposed to be temporary, giving cruise brands, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity, Holland America Line, Princess and Carnival, an opportunity to resume sailings to Alaska over the summer as the pandemic carried on.
Sen. Murkowski, now, is making a case to make the exemption permanent.
“[The act] had the unintended consequence of putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government,” Murkowski said, addressing attendees at the Southeast Conference Annual Meeting this week.
“It nearly wiped out southeast Alaskan economies as we saw business after business ready to welcome visitors, but unable to because Canadians would not respond to our requests to allow foreign stops at their ports to meet the requirement of PVSA. We cannot let that happen again.”
Sen. Murkowski has been a vocal opponent of Canada's cruise rules throughout the pandemic.
In a strongly-worded release posted last February, Murkowski, alongside Senators Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young, called Canada decision to ban cruise ships, without consultation with Alaska, “unacceptable.”
“As the state with the most extensive shared border with Canada, the Alaska Delegation has worked in good-faith to seek compromise over border crossing restrictions due to COVID-19, keeping in mind the health and safety of Alaskans and Canadians. Canada’s announcement to ban all cruise sailings carrying 100 people or more traveling through Canadian waters, without so much as a courtesy conversation with the Alaska Delegation, is not only unexpected—it is unacceptable—and was certainly not a decision made with any consideration for Alaskans or our economy,” the delegation wrote.
“We expect more from our Canadian allies.”
Job losses would be “significant”
Cruise ships bypassing Canada for good could cost the Canadian cruise sector upwards of $4.278 billion in revenue by the time cruising in Canada fully resumes, as the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) has pointed out.
Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA, was worried that something like this may happen, as she told PAX in an interview last May.
“A temporary change [in the law] could become permanent and the economic impact and job loss would be significant for Canadian coastal communities,” Paradis said.
Canada’s ban on cruise ships is set to be lifted on Nov. 1, 2021, after peak season, pending that operators are able to fully comply with public health requirements, said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra in July.
In British Columbia, the cruise industry generated roughly $2.72 billion and created 17,384 jobs in 2019.