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Environmental group sparks debate over B.C. cruise industry’s economic impact in Victoria

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Environmental group sparks debate over B.C. cruise industry’s economic impact in Victoria
As B.C. gears up for its first cruise season in more than two years, an environmental group is claiming the industry's economic impact is not worth the damage the big ships cause to the surrounding waters and communities. Kylie Stanton explains – Apr 8, 2022

As businesses in Victoria, B.C., await the arrival of the first cruise ship in more than two years this weekend, an environmental group is arguing the industry’s economic impact is not worth the damage to the surrounding waters and communities.

An independent report commissioned by Stand.earth and released this week shows tourists arriving in the city from cruise ships spent $137.1 million in 2019, while non-cruise tourism — including those visiting Victoria by car or plane and staying in hotels — totalled $2.94 billion.

“The cruise industry is not the boon to Victoria that they sell themselves as,” said Anna Barford, the Canada shipping campaigner at Stand.earth.

Read more: Start of B.C. cruise season delayed as first planned arrival in Victoria scrapped

Cruise ships that stop in Victoria are often stopping over on their way to longer-term stops in Alaska, giving passengers less than a day to visit and spend money in the B.C. capital.

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The report, which was prepared by Responsible Travel Consulting, argues those passengers spent seven times less than stayover visitors in 2019, which marked a record year for the cruise industry before the COVID-19 pandemic brought trips to a halt.

It also found non-cruise tourism created nearly 31 times more jobs than cruise operations in Greater Victoria.

Barry Penner, a legal adviser for the Cruise Lines International Organization, doesn’t argue with the report’s findings, saying they’re not much different than his groups’ own economic analysis.

Click to play video: 'Start of B.C. cruise season delayed'
Start of B.C. cruise season delayed

But he says the jobs and spending the cruise industry does generate for Victoria is still important, particularly for workers like longshoremen who have been out of work throughout the pandemic-related shutdown.

Those workers were already dealt a blow when an expected arrival earlier this week was scrapped due to a possible COVID-19 outbreak onboard.

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“We can beg to differ, I guess, on whether … 12,000 jobs are significant in the South Island area, but for those families I think they are,” he said.

Penner also points out that many cruise ship passengers who discover Victoria end up returning for multi-day visits — contributing to the non-cruise tourism figures cited by the Stand.earth report.

“It’s a puzzling comment to say that somehow, because cruise ships bring people to Victoria that otherwise wouldn’t come to Victoria, that somehow those tourism dollars and the jobs they support aren’t as helpful,” he said. “I don’t quite understand that point.”

The point of the report, according to Barford, is to put more pressure on the city and other officials to crack down on the environmental harm the industry creates.

Read more: As Canada lifts international cruise ban, B.C. prepares for ‘very strong’ 2022 season

She says because of strict regulations in Alaska and Washington state on wastewater dumping from cruise ships, looser restrictions in Canada have turned Victoria into “the toilet bowl for the cruise industry.”

Transport Canada on Monday announced new measures that match the American standard for wastewater disposal, including prohibiting dumping within three nautical miles from shore and better treatment.

Cruise operators are being urged to follow the voluntary measures until the federal government makes the changes permanent through regulations. A timeline for those regulations has not been provided.

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Barford says Monday’s move is a good first step, but says more needs to be done to lessen the impact of the industry, which includes greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel emissions into the ocean.

“We’re not saying cruise ships can’t come here,” she said. “We think there’s space for them, but not for their outsized pollution footprint.”

Penner says the cruise industry has spent the past two years researching ways to lessen their environmental impact, including banning plastic straws and other single-use plastics.

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