Earlier this month, two senators introduced the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, designed to revive the state’s tourism-dependent economy, while Canada bans cruise ships until February 2022. It would provide an exemption from the current and long-standing Passenger Vessel Services Act, removing the requirement for ships to stop in a foreign country – meaning that cruises could travel directly from Seattle to Alaska without stop in British Columbia.
“By bringing this technical solution to cruise ships bound for Alaska from Washington State, we are taking important steps to safely resume cruise ship activity and economic certainty at a time when Alaskans need it most, ”US Senator Lisa Murkowski said in a recent press release.
Now, pressure is mounting on the BC government to get assurances from its US counterparts that such a measure would be lifted alongside travel restrictions.
“The stakes for British Columbia’s tourism sector are incredibly high and require the commitment of this Prime Minister and this government,” said Liberal Opposition MP Mike de Jong, during question period on Tuesday. “Tourism operators are already holding each other by the fingernails. ”
He said the loss of Vancouver, Victoria and Prince Rupert as permanent destinations could have a “devastating impact” on British Columbia’s economic recovery, costing the already struggling industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
“What assurance has the Prime Minister received from Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is sponsoring the bill in Congress, that the rule changes allowing cruise ships to bypass British ports entirely – British will not become permanent?
The NDP government responded by saying that the issue was outside of provincial jurisdiction.
“When it is safe, we will open the international borders – but it is not for me,” replied Tourism Minister Melanie Mark. “It is up to the federal government, it is its mandate and its competence to manage border control. ”
There is a small chance that it will pass, and we are following it closely… But I am convinced that if it did, it would be temporary and not become permanent.– Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Port Authority
In a subsequent interview, Mark expressed doubt that the legislation would go nowhere.
“The likelihood, the feasibility of adopting this measure right now in the midst of a global pandemic… is pretty slim,” said Mark.
“I respect Americans who are fighting for their interests, just as we Canadians are going to fight for our interests; but for now, the interest is safety and the people who get vaccinated. ”
American frustrations targeted at Ottawa
The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act was introduced exactly three weeks after American politicians wrote a letter on behalf of Congress to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressing frustration at Canada’s actions to limit overseas travel.
“We were shocked by the decision announced by your government last week to extend the ban on cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers until February 28, 2022,” read the letter dated February 12.
“We are particularly concerned that this decision was taken without warning or consultation with Alaska, your neighbor and partner,” wrote two senators and the congressman from Alaska.
They said the loss of access to Canadian ports is creating significant disruption to the Alaska cruise season and will have a significant economic impact on the state, which is already suffering from the recession caused by the pandemic.
Copy of the letter, the Federal Ministers of Health, Transportation and Public Safety, as well as the Premiers of the Yukon and British Columbia and the Canadian Ambassador to the United States.
He continues to press the federal government to reconsider the upcoming year-long ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters.
“Going forward, we urge you to consider Alaska as a critical stakeholder in your port and waterway closure considerations… We ask your government to continue to communicate and collaborate with us on how to resume safely a 2021 cruise season. ”
‘It would be huge’
The industry in British Columbia is counting on the bill being blocked, and even if it does not, many are convinced that the new rules will not become permanent.
“I have read the law; she talks very specifically about the fact that as long as the Canadian border is closed [these are the proposed measures to be implemented]Said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Port Authority.
“There is a small chance that it will pass, and we are following it closely,” he said. “But I am convinced that if it did, it would be temporary and not permanent – there is too much in the current Passenger Ship Services Act. ”
However, if the law takes effect and lasts beyond the border closures, Robertson said the fallout for British Columbia would be unthinkable.
“It would be important. It would be huge, ”he said. “I’ve heard from a lot of companies now that we’ve lost the 2020 season, and it looks like we’re going to lose the 2021 season, and they’re very, very worried. ”
He highlighted the $ 2.5 billion the cruise industry brings to the BC economy, referring to the hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs that depend on cruise tourism.