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Alaska cruise ship bill would have ‘devastating’ economic impact: B.C. port official

Under proposed legislation, large foreign cruise ships can bypass Canadian ports

Two U.S. bills proposed by a congressman and senator aimed at allowing Alaska-bound cruise ships to bypass Canadian ports would have a “devastating” effect on British Columbia’s economy, the head of Victoria’s harbour authority says.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski proposed a bill Wednesday that would allow cruise ships carrying more than 1,000 passengers and bound for Alaska a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act.

Under the act, foreign-built ships are not allowed to carry passengers between two U.S. ports without a stopover in a foreign country.

“(The act) had the unintended consequence of putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government,” she said during an address to the Southeast Conference Annual Meeting.

“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.”

Under the proposed legislation, foreign cruise ships carrying more than 1,000 passengers can bypass Canadian ports if they wish.

Ian Robertson, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, said the bill would hurt Victoria and British Columbia’s economy.

“I’m both surprised and disappointed,” Robertson said in an interview. “It would be devastating.”

Cruises bring in roughly $143 million a year to Victoria’s economy and create hundreds of jobs, he added.

But Robertson added he believes the province is taking the threat of an economic impact more seriously than it did in the spring when a bill was quickly introduced and passed in the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at adjusting the same law.

Premier John Horgan initially said at the time the legislation was a “blip” that wasn’t likely to pass quickly, before it did and he set up meetings with U.S. officials.

Cruise ships were banned during the initial part of the COVID-19 pandemic over concerns about spreading the virus, but the ban is set to be lifted Nov. 1.

Robertson said the next federal government needs to take the issue seriously after Monday’s election.

“It’s a file that requires all hands on deck,” he said. “There needs to be advocacy at the highest level.”

B.C. Tourism Minister Rob Fleming said in a statement that he is working with industry leaders and his federal counterparts to raise awareness of the issue.

“The cruise ship industry is vital to B.C. tourism, and to thousands of people whose livelihoods rely on the regular arrival of ships,” he said.

Fleming said Horgan has raised the issue with the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

—Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

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