How a landlocked Utah senator could bring down Canada’s cruise ship industry

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Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee has had a busy few months. He wrote a editorial cursing critical race theory, and slammed federally nominated candidates on Fox News.

In other words, he is a candidate for re-election in 2022.

But between the two? He is trying to dismantle the American law that has kept the Canadian cruise industry afloat.

Reports revealing lobbying and campaign donations show a US group lobbying for the cruise ship industry pressured them to get involved in this cause. He did not answer the Star’s questions about his ties to this group.

Last June, Lee introduced three bills to repeal the Passenger Ship Services Act (PVSA), a law that requires ships built and owned overseas, like the vast majority of cruise ships, to stop in foreign ports. When it was created in the 19th century, it was a protectionist law that favored the use of ships built in the United States for domestic travel.

The law is actually the reason the BC cruise industry exists – forcing ships traveling along the west coast to Alaska, for example, to stop at a port city in Columbia. -British, like Victoria or Vancouver.

Lee argues that this is clearly “Canada first” – and it must go. Two senators from Alaska had previously waived the requirement for cruise ships to stop at a foreign port after Canada closed its borders during the pandemic, with a bill called the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act.

This bill will apparently end in November 2021, when Canada’s Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said cruise calls in Canada can resume.

But Lee’s move would make the bypass permanent, potentially lowering costs for U.S. cruise passengers

By the time he announced the bill, political scientists were perplexed that the decision came from Lee – the senator from a landlocked state who is known for not tabling a large amount of legislation and has few apparent connections. with the cruise industry.

“Utah has no ports, no ties to the cruise industry and no more people who cruise than the state average,” said Matthew Burbank, professor of political science at the University of Utah, in a previous interview.

“I can see why the elected officials of Alaska, Washington or Florida might want to pursue this and why Senator Lee might support those efforts. But I see no compelling reason for Senator Lee to lead this subject.

However, this could have a major impact on Canada.

The industry brings in $ 2 billion in economic activity to British Columbia each year, according to researchers from groups like the Cruise Lines International Association, the St. Lawrence Cruise Association, the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association and Cruise BC.

New campaign finance disclosures from the Federal Election Commission may hint at why Lee was so interested – he received large donations from the Political Action Committee of a group of lobbyists defending the cruise ship industry.

Records show that in the first quarter, the biggest donors to Mike Lee’s campaign fund were Republican fundraising organization WinRed and a handful of other Tory political action committees.

Records include receipts for each contribution and a total amount donated by each individual or organization during the electoral cycle, which in this case runs from November 4, 2020 to November 8, 2022.

The two donors who stood out for not being PACs were a Utah businessman called Philip J. Purcell, who donated $ 17,400, and a tourism organization called the American Society of Travel Agents. PAC (ASTA), who donated $ 15,000.

Donations from ASTA, the second largest source of fundraising for Lee outside of major PACs, create a connection to the cruise industry where none were previously apparent.

ASTA lobbied the United States Senate and House of Representatives in 2020 and 2021. Lobbying reports filed for each year indicate that it lobbied for COVID-related supports for them. travel companies in 2020, and for specific legislative measures, including the Alaska Tourism Revival Act in the first quarter of 2021.

An ASTA spokesperson told The Star he had a meeting with Lee in February and sent a list of topics discussed. This included the issue of cruises and Canada.

“Support all efforts to mitigate the impact of the Canadian government’s decision to suspend cruise operations in Canadian waters until February 2022 and ensure that the Alaska cruise industry can resume operations as soon as possible. as possible, ”reads a point of the meeting notes shared with the Star.

The ASTA spokesperson said they had a pre-existing relationship with Lee and that he had supported travel industry issues in the past.

From 2008 to 2019, the organization did not report more than $ 15,000 in lobbying expenses per quarter. But its activity increased dramatically during the pandemic. He reported $ 60,000 in expenses in the last three quarters of 2020 and $ 30,000 in lobbying expenses in the first quarter of 2021.

That said, the ASTA spokesperson said the organization had no official position on permanently repealing the law requiring stopovers at Canadian ports.



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