Friday, May 21, 2021

BC Government's Alaskan disinterest and fumbled handling of cruise industry issues could be costly for Northwest Tourism

"Now look we read in the Canadian press for the last several weeks, there was no way the Americans could get their act together to pass a law that would fully bypass Canada, No way! That's what the Canadians were saying, the Canadian politician, so there wasn't a lot of need to work with us. Well here's a message for Canada, Never bet against America, Never bet against America. Pretty much every country in the history of our country's history that has bet against us has lost" -- Senator Dan Sullivan speaking in Washington on Thursday

Premier  John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark may have ignored the wrong marine at the wrong time and now there will clearly be some fence mending required between British Columbia and Alaska, this after a nasty squall in relations over the West Coast Cruise industry.

Yesterday, the US House of Representatives moved forward with a bill that will allow for US cruise ships to travel from the lower 48 states to Alaska without need of a stop in British Columbia, a removal of a clause in the century old Jones Act that while at the moment noted as temporary, could reshape BC's cruise industry and tourism in the province quite a bit should it be made permanent. 

With the passage in the House, the Bill will now make it's way to President Joe Biden's West Wing office and with two out of three electoral branches of the US Government in favour, it seems more than likely that it is a bill that will be approved by the President.

With the House moving as fast as they did to try to salvage the Alaskan Cruise season, the Alaska delegation was taking some bows on Thursday. With one Senator in particular, Dan Sullivan making sure that the Alaska government officials won't forget the lack of interest and help in their concerns for their largest tourism industry.

Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan one
of a number of elected Alaska official
not happy with the BC government
over cruise industry concerns
Their joint press release detailing they growing irritants that the Alaskans have on their discussion with Canada and British Columbia, Mr. Sullivan a former marine,  pulling few punches with his review of events.

“Hundreds of Alaska’s small business owners, who have put their savings, their hopes and their dreams into their businesses, were on the brink of being ruined as a result of the pandemic and the fact that our short cruise ship season was about to be canceled again. Our friends in Canada could have helped us here when we really needed them, and it’s unfortunate that they ultimately did not. But thanks to bipartisan cooperation in Congress and the unrelenting advocacy of Alaska’s delegation, our state is open for business and poised to welcome cruise ship passengers this summer. 2021 will not be the robust cruise ship season we have had in previous years, or was forecasted this year before the pandemic hit, but there will be ships, and there will be people, and that is excellent for Alaska.

And while the passage from the Senator is one of a bit of bluster, it should be noted that the frustrations found among the Alaska Congressional Delegation are more widespread than just one member.

The same press release also had another message for Premier Horgan, one which may be a rude awakening to some of the neighbour to neighbour relations that he appears to have let slip away from him.

"Following Senate passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act last week, John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, described our effort as a 'blip' that would not go any further than the Senate. Now that the bill is headed to the President's desk and cruises will bypass Canada entirely, I am sure that Premier Horgan will never again underestimate the 'small but mighty' Alaska Congressional Delegation." -- Congressman Don Young

Those sentiments and some past grievances with BC and Canada over the fate of the Alaska Marine Highway System at Prince Rupert may deliver some further challenges for the Northwest tourism industry in the months and years ahead as we move to more normal times.

The issues of the need for renovation of the Prince Rupert terminal, American security concerns and access to the Highway at Prince Rupert ones that have been a frequent flash point in relations for much of the last few years.

Issues that may get a higher profile now, particularly with a collection of legislators who appear to have long memories and short tempers, something that the Premier may soon have to  address with a bit more than general disinterest.

The Opposition Liberals were scoring some political points even prior to the Thursday announcement and the Alaska contingent's press release outlining the disappointment at the lack of interest by the provincial government. 

Included on the roster of speakers with commentary was Skeena MLA Ellis Ross who relayed his concerns over the potential impact on tourism in the province and the Northwest.

The Cruise controversy was not one that appears to have captured the attention of North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, who has had nothing to add to the debate and any impact on the Prince Rupert industry as the week progressed.

Fortunately for the Premier and the NDP government, the Legislature is now on hiatus for the next week as most MLA's enjoy a week away following the Victoria Day May long weekend. 

So the in house heat in Victoria will be left to simmer; awaiting further damage control upon the MLA's return.

Since the NDP government was elected to office last fall, the catch phrase for the Premier on most anything has been how he and the government are doing their level best ... a sentiment perhaps not shared by the neighbours to the North, or the official opposition at the moment.

Some of the reviews of the week on the percolating controversy and rough patch in Alaska/BC relations can be reviewed through our D'Arcy McGee blog Victoria Viewpoints feature through this week.

More notes on the Cruise and Tourism industries can be explored from our archive page here.

Provincial themes can be reviewed from our Legislature Archive page.

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