A national coalition of tourism and business groups continues to lobby the federal government for a U.S. border reopening plan, for the sake of cruise tourism and the thousands of B.C. jobs that rely on it.
Four Victoria organizations are part of the coalition of 13 groups, which includes such key players as the Business Council of B.C., Tourism Industry Association of B.C. and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Each rallied behind a request originally made by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority in February.
In June the coalition asked that Transport Canada announce a go-ahead of the summer 2022 cruise season by the beginning of this fall – the end of the current lost season. The federal body has not yet wavered from its plan to discuss international cruise through Canadian ports in late February.
Anna Poustie, chair of the Victoria Cruise Industry Alliance, said without certainty around next season most of the small businesses that are part of her organization won’t be able to survive another year.
Alliance members from the Beaver Gift Shop to Orca Spirit Adventures whale watching are confident in the services they deliver, Poustie said, but don’t want to arrogantly assume cruise-goers will come back if they don’t have to.
That Victoria-centric anxiety has grown to encompass the province, said harbour authority CEO Ian Robertson. The coalition estimates the federal government delay leaves at risk more than 17,000 B.C. jobs and $2.7 billion for the province’s economy.
“It’s not just Victoria and Vancouver. It’s also other ports that really enjoy cruises; Prince Rupert and, to a lesser degree, Nanaimo,” Robertson said.
Poustie said the perceived lack of movement from Transport Canada made clear cruise and related industries needed to be aligned in their messaging. “(They) needed to hear one message from this industry – one call to action – so that they had a singular focus in their next step.”
That is especially important to small business owners, she added, and the Ogden Point-based labourers with the International Longshore Warehouse Union, which also joined the coalition.
“They feel so removed from the people who are making the decisions and having these conversations … By aligning their voice with significant organizations, it really makes them feel like they are going to be heard.”
Robertson said the coalition’s demand also ramps up pressure to make Canada’s tone regarding the cruise industry more internationally competitive.
The repeal of the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act – which would mean the end of mandatory U.S. cruise traffic through Victoria – was introduced as a temporary measure while borders remained closed between the two countries, Robertson said.
Announcing a go-ahead of the summer 2022 cruise season by early fall is about “sending a positive signal,” he said, “because Canada’s (cruise industry) has taken a huge reputational hit.”
“Canada is leading the world in vaccination, but we’re not leading the world in coming up with a plan to open up our land and marine borders. That’s the piece our group is focusing on,” Robertson said.
While the coalition has no plans to continue past the issue at hand, several of the 13 organizations are affected by policies for taxation and land use, said Tourism Industry of BC CEO, Walt Judas. They often work together to advocate to both levels of government on improving the appeal of tourism investment in B.C, he said.
Both Robertson and Poustie are positive cruise ships will return to Victoria in some capacity for 2022 – how much depends on how soon Ottawa announces a go-ahead of the season.
Given the loss of this year’s season and the preparation required for the next, “I would have loved certainty yesterday,” Poustie said.
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