Kevin Falcon: The NDP is sinking BC’s cruise ship industry.
The cruise ship industry normally contributes $2.7 billion dollars per year and supports 17,000 jobs across British Columbia. But today, it’s at risk due to a colossal failure of leadership by John Horgan’s NDP government.
Some background first. Historic US legislation essentially requires Alaskan-bound cruise ships to stop in a port in British Columbia. Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Prince Rupert have all benefitted from this requirement. The economic benefits of these stopovers spill over into the taxi, restaurant, hotel, retail, whale watching, pedicab and bicycle rental businesses in these communities, among many others. Among the beneficiaries are thousands of students, whose summer jobs help pay their tuition.
For cruises originating in Vancouver, where a million passengers board each year, it means many BC products are brought on board, such as milk, cheese, fruit, fresh vegetables, eggs, chicken, beef, fish, wine and beer. Also, shipyards in Vancouver and Esquimalt receive lucrative contracts for routine maintenance and extensive refurbishments, generating more jobs.
When BC’s ports closed due to COVID-19, two powerful Alaskan Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, wrote to our Prime Minister and Premier on February 12th. They offered several suggestions to respect the closure of our ports, such as allowing ‘technical stops’ in BC. To quote from their letter:
“We would appreciate your sincere consideration of a variety of options, including robust health protocols and the employment of technical stops, which may constitute a safe, yet reasonable, compromise to solving this dilemma.”
This win-win solution would meet the requirements of existing US legislation, allow cruise ships to support Alaska’s struggling tourism sector, keep British Columbians safe, and support our own stressed economy.
The premier should know the importance of these 17,000 jobs at stake for BC. Why did he not jump on the issue and respond immediately? Instead, Premier Horgan, Tourism Minister Melanie Mark and the entire NDP Government ignored the letter. They didn’t even bother to pick up the phone.
The Americans responded to the lack of acknowledgement with special legislation that would eliminate the requirement to stopover at BC’s ports. Horgan’s response was to call the legislation a “blip” and to opine that the chances of its passage were “remote.” It passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.
It gets worse. Tourism Minister Mark admitted as recently as May 10th that “cruise ships aren’t on the [NDP] radar at the moment”. She crowed how the NDP Government was “arrogant in our confidence” that it was “very unlikely” the legislation would pass the House of Representatives”. It sailed through the House unanimously a few days later.
The NDP has done something few thought possible – uniting Republicans and Democrats. In this case, however, the result is highly damaging to BC’s interests.
On May 24th President Biden signed the bill into law.
Only then did Horgan desperately try arranging a call to our neighbours, hoping to talk them out of something they had already done. Premier Horgan eventually announced he had a phone call arranged with Senator Sullivan, but the Senator cancelled the call moments before it was to occur.
Representative Don Young from Alaska, the longest-serving member in the U.S. Congress, commented “I am sure that Premier Horgan will never again underestimate the ‘small but mighty’ Alaska Congressional Delegation.”
A crisis is not the best time to start building a relationship. Unfortunately, the NDP have not developed a strong working relationship with our neighbours to the south, and then antagonized them when they needed our help.
The potential cost to BC is not just the $2.7 billion dollar annual economic benefit. It is also the significant impacts on the hard-working women and men, that drive the taxis, clean hotel rooms and work in retail and agriculture, that will pay the biggest price.
Last week, US Senator Mike Lee introduced legislation that if passed, will permanently eliminate the requirement for cruise ships to stop in BC ports.
Leadership and competence matter. Professional politicians like John Horgan, who have never worked in jobs outside of government, fail to appreciate how critical it is to act quickly to preserve jobs that are vital to our economy.
In a post-Covid world, many governments, including the United States, have a strong focus on their own economic self-interest. We need provincial government leadership that defends the interests of British Columbian workers too.
Kevin Falcon is a former Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, and is a candidate to lead the BC Liberal Party.
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