Harbour Authority enlists partners to pressure Ottawa on end to cruise-ship ban

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has ramped up pressure on Ottawa to declare it will be open to cruise ships next year, enlisting about a dozen partners in calling for action.

The conglomerate, which includes the B.C. Hotel Association, Business Council of B.C., the B.C. Maritime Employers Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, wants the federal government to announce its intention to rescind the order banning cruise ships in Canada until Feb. 28, 2022.

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Ian Robertson, chief executive of the Harbour Authority, said they will continue to ask for action until there is a reopening plan and the cruise industry has some certainty about next year.

“The longer we don’t send a signal to the cruise industry that it will be welcomed back in 2022, the more [Utah Senator Mike Lee’s bill] gets momentum,” said Robertson

Lee has pushed the U.S. ­Senate to permanently change U.S. law to allow foreign-flagged cruise ships to travel directly between U.S. ports without touching a foreign country. That means Alaska cruises could bypass Victoria and Vancouver.

New U.S. legislation, ­introduced by Alaska lawmakers, was approved in May to temporarily allow cruise ships to bypass Canadian ports on the way to Alaska for this cruise season. That regulation will be dropped when Canada reopens its ­borders to cruise ships.

Robertson said industry, business and tourism leaders are asking very little of the federal government. “It doesn’t change anything for 2021 but sends a signal we will welcome back the industry in 2022,” he said.

The conglomerate argues 17,000 jobs are at risk in B.C. while the cruise industry is in limbo.

“This is about clarity, certainty and confidence for the cruise industry, tourism operators and the thousands of British Columbians who depend on this vital industry,” said conglomerate member Walt Judas, chief executive of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. “Providing a clear and immediate roadmap for the safe resumption of Canadian cruise in 2022 is essential to the many businesses and jobs the cruise industry supports.”

The group said relaxing quarantine rules for fully vaccinated Canadians returning home is a small step toward a full opening of the borders later this year, but does nothing for marine borders.

Rob Ashton, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union of Canada, said a clear plan sends the signal that his workforce is an ­invaluable part of the country’s economic recovery.

“If the U.S. efforts succeed, that represents an approximately quarter-million lost hours for the longshore workforce across the province,” he said.

Robertson said there is also growing frustration because of changing goalposts, noting at one point they were told a federal reopening plan would be unveiled when 75 per cent of Canadians had received one COVID-19 vaccine dose and more than 20 per cent had both doses.

“We’re there and still there’s no plan,” said Robertson. “In talking with the cruise lines over the last few weeks, there’s frustration there, too — they want certainty. It mystifies me that we’re getting no action out of Ottawa.”

The cruise lines have been selling Alaska cruises for both this year and next.

In some cases, next year’s itineraries include stops in Victoria.

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