Could cruise ships bypass B.C.? Premier faces questions over U.S. proposal
VANCOUVER -- Premier John Horgan faced questions on Tuesday about a proposal from U.S. lawmakers that would temporarily allow cruise ships sailing to and from Alaska to bypass British Columbia’s ports, potentially depriving the province of hundreds of millions of dollars in port fees and tourist spending.
The U.S. senate passed the bill, proposed by two senators from Alaska, unanimously last Thursday.
It now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives and if passed, would have to be signed by President Joe Biden in order to become law.
On Tuesday, Horgan said he had been in contact with both Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan prior to when the bill was brought forward and was now working on meeting with both to discuss the potential economic impact on B.C.
The senators “made it clear that this was going to be a temporary measure until such time when border restrictions lifted,” Horgan said on Tuesday.
According to Ian Robertson, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, cruise ship tourism is worth some $2.7 billion annually to the provincial economy.
Robertson is concerned that the law, if passed, could become permanent, allowing ships to bypass B.C. ports.
“The probability is low, but the severity if that were to happen is off the charts,” he told CTV News Vancouver Island on Monday.
During question period Tuesday in the B.C. legislature, Melanie Mark, the minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, said repeatedly the proposed law was temporary and accused the opposition Liberals of fearmongering.
“The official Opposition are coming in here acting as though somehow they have a looking glass into the future, drumming up fear that there's a permanent measure, when the bill is unequivocal: it's a temporary measure,” Mark said.
“It is so hard to take the answer from this minister seriously,” said Opposition critic Teresa Wat. “She should really listen to the stakeholders and also listen to the U.S. politicians. They are trying their best to make it permanent.”
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has also petitioned the federal government to allow what are called “technical stops," to permit vessels to refuel or resupply while passengers remain on board.
On Tuesday, Horgan said he was open to the idea.
“If that will assist the industry to be maintained, we’re happy to talk about that,” he said.
The federal government has banned cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers from o operating in Canadian waters until at least February 2022.