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Rob Shaw 2

Rob Shaw: A new, earlier, date for cruise ships to return to Canada is good news – but there are still plenty of hazards ahead.

A new early date for cruise ships to sail in Canada’s waters could go a long way to placating angry Americans still considering the removal of mandatory Canadian stops en route to Alaska.

But there are still plenty of risks on the horizon that will dictate when, if ever, we see the full return of cruise ships to B.C. communities.

Federal Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra announced in Victoria that foreign cruise ships can enter Canadian waters again starting Nov. 1.

Ottawa had originally banned cruise ships until early 2022, but it’s now possible to bump up that date because of the progress made on vaccinating the population, said Alghabra.

The November date is just after this year’s cruise ship season ends, but it was the timeline that the international cruise ship sector had asked Ottawa to commit to publicly, as a show of faith for planning the 2022 season.

Still, there’s the not-so-insignificant matter of a bill currently on the floor of the U.S. Senate that, if passed, would make permanent the ability for Alaska-bound cruise ships to skip stops at Canadian ports.

No one on either side of the border is quite sure whether Utah Senator Mike Lee can muster the votes to pass his legislation.

That includes B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, who smartly declined to comment on the prospect when asked by reporters, given that B.C. spectacularly misjudged earlier temporary legislation by Alaska.

However, Fleming said he thinks the new Nov. 1 date will make U.S. legislators in Alaska and elsewhere rethink whether they should support Senator Lee’s proposal.

And Fleming said by Ottawa bumping up the date, it sends a message to those who felt B.C. was to blame for ignoring Alaska’s calls for help and forcing the state to pass temporary legislation to salvage its cruise season this summer at the expense of Canadian stops.

“The accusation though that somehow Canada and British Columbia were being insensitive to Alaska, which I think was perhaps what gave that initial temporary bill momentum, today has been erased by the federal government,” said Fleming.


It certainly helps B.C.’s case to have a competent minister on the file like Fleming, after previous underperformers.

But a lot of the situation still remains out of Fleming’s hands.

Lee’s bill appears to have a bit of momentum.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal last week endorsed the idea of a permanent law to skip Canadian ports, praising Senator Lee for raising an issue in which Canada endangers American tourism jobs.

“There is no sound reason for this 19th-century protectionism that sends jobs and tourist dollars across the border—and gives Canada power over American commerce,” wrote the paper.

The newspaper is not the first, nor will it be the last, to point out that the ancient U.S. law that mandates cruise ships must stop at Canadian ports only benefits the Canadian economy at the expense of American cities.

That America first rhetoric, if it takes off, will be the biggest risk to Canadian and B.C. officials.

The other major problem on the horizon is U.S. vaccinations.

Canada has now surpassed the United States on its vaccination rate, and the Americans appear stalled and struggling to get the majority of their population signed up for full doses, particularly amongst younger demographics.

That’s sparking fears the U.S. is about to get hard hit by the more transmissible Delta variant. Los Angeles recently announced it is bringing back mandatory masks in public places, due to high hospitalizations caused by spiking case rates.

It’s not clear what Canada’s public health rules will be for cruise ships that want to stop in Canadian ports after Nov. 1. Presumably, Ottawa will have to include some sort of promise of full vaccination to set foot on Canadian soil, and work in conjunction with the cruise ship sector to ensure compliance.

All of this makes the cruise ship situation still very much in flux.

Yes, Canada has a new earlier date for when big foreign ships can sail again in its waters.

But it doesn’t control U.S. politics or U.S. vaccination rates, and ultimately those may prove to be the deciding factors on when, and if, the cruise ships ever return.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.