Victoria council agrees to look into its authority over cruise ships in port

Victoria city council agreed Thursday to investigate its legal authority to regulate waste and emissions from cruise ships while they’re in port.

Councillors approved a motion, authored by Mayor Lisa Helps, that directs staff to report back on whether the city can require cruise ships to plug into shore power by a certain date rather than idling in port.

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In addition, councillors agreed to ask the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority to put a cap on cruise visits and refrain from signing long-term contracts until the shore-power issue is “dealt with” to council’s satisfaction.

Helps appeared to soften her position on that recommendation Thursday, after businesses raised concerns about its impact on their bottom line.

The mayor told the committee of the whole that the recommendation “doesn’t propose that the cruise-ship industry can’t expand until there’s shore power.” She said it could simply mean there has to be a business case for shore power or funding for shore power before expansion can proceed.

But that differs from what Helps said last week when she told the Times Colonist: “Specifically what we’re asking the GVHA to do is not sign any long-term contracts, not increase the number of ships and not consider home porting until shore power is installed.”

Coun. Geoff Young, who voted against the motion, criticized its vague wording, calling it a “most unfortunate” document.

“It’s almost as if this motion is worded in a way to do the most harm to the industry for the least benefit,” he said.

Young said he supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, but the motion’s objectives could have been achieved by continuing to work with industry and the harbour authority.

“I think this motion is a regrettable one and should not have come forward in anything like this form,” he said.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe echoed those concerns. She noted, for instance, that the city’s Crystal Pool is a major emitter of greenhouse gases.

“What if someone came to us and said: ‘You’re not dealing with it. You need to deal with it right away. You … close it down until you find a solution.’ I think we would take offence to that and we would say: ‘We are working on it. These are the issues that have come to bear and that’s why it’s taking time.’

“So I just feel when it comes to being collaborative, [in] partnership, solution-oriented and relationship-building, this motion missed out on that.”

She added that if the motion had been properly framed in the first place, it wouldn’t have been necessary for the mayor to spend several days explaining what was meant by it. “Unfortunately, we spend too much energy trying to put out fires instead of making sure the fires don’t start in the first place.”

By contrast, Coun. Ben Isitt, one of the signatories to the motion, said he had wanted it to go even further.

Isitt said he favoured a motion signalling that the cruise-ship industry “should be wound down until such time as it has a sustainable power source and other impacts are managed.”

He said that “models of economic development based on the constant pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases aren’t worth pursuing. I would rather put workers who rely on those kinds of jobs on a state pension to at least mitigate the harm that’s happening to the atmosphere.”

Ian Robertson, chief executive officer of the harbour authority, said he wasn’t surprised that the motion passed.

“I was very heartened by the comments made by Coun. Young and Coun. Thornton-Joe,” he said.

“I really think they talked to the point that I’ve been making for the last week, that if we had just sat down and had a conversation, we might have avoided all of this motion and where we’re at.”

Robertson, who attended the committee meeting, said it was “disappointing” that some councillors appeared unaware of the steps the cruise industry is already taking.

“We’ve made actually several requests for them to take an environmental ship tour and none of them have taken us up on that opportunity,” he said.

“Quite honestly, I was troubled by Coun. Isitt’s comments where he would have a preference to wind down the industry.

“But, anyway, that said, I’ve always believed we need to work forward in a spirit of collaboration and open communication and we’ll do that.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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