Premier says Ottawa helping in battle against U.S. threat to Canadian cruise stops

The province will not be cut out of the West Coast cruise industry without a fight, Premier John Horgan said.

In remarks to reporters Thursday, the premier said he has spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman and been assured they are aware of the threat to the industry.

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Horgan said Trudeau shares his concerns, and the premier has been advised that the national government is well placed to monitor and manage what happens in Washington, D.C., on the file.

“I have every assurance and every understanding that Ambassador Hillman and her team are working around the clock to make sure our interests are protected,” he said.

Horgan said there has been an unprecedented Canadian collaboration to respond to Alaska lawmakers squeezing B.C. out of the Alaska cruise industry.

Alaska Congressman Don Young, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Utah Senator Mike Lee have all laid out plans to permanently exempt large cruise ships from the Passenger Vessel Services Act for cruises between the U.S. and Alaska.

The change would mean foreign-flagged cruise ships could travel directly between U.S. ports without touching a foreign country, which would devastate the cruise industry in Victoria, which reaps about $143 million annually from cruise visits. The industry is worth an estimated $2.7 billion annually to the ­province.

Horgan said Thursday he’s not convinced the cruise-ship issue is on the Biden administration’s agenda.

Still, the premier said he intended to be at the table with Transportation Minister Rob Fleming and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark when they meet with industry on how to “resist the overture” of the Alaskan ­politicians and find a way to expand B.C.’s opportunities once the pandemic subsides.

Stakeholders have said it will take effort at every level of ­government to derail the U.S. lawmakers’ plans.

That kind of commitment did not happen earlier this year, when Alaska lawmakers ­managed to secure new U.S. legislation that temporarily allowed cruise ships to bypass Canadian ports on the way to Alaska for the 2021 cruise season, after Ottawa banned the ships from Canadian waters because of the ­pandemic.

The threat of cruise ships permanently bypassing Canada en route to Alaska was dismissed as unlikely by the two senior levels of government at the time.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority said it is pleased to see the government taking it seriously this time around.

Spokesman Brian Cant said having the province work with the federal government and Canadian ambassador is a big step and is clearly moving the issue forward.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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