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Sole-source or Not?

Liberals 'sucking and blowing' <br/>on defence contracts, MacKay says Add to ...

Defence Minster Peter MacKay is accusing Michael Ignatieff of hypocrisy when making promises on how Liberals would hand out defence contracts if they were in power.

He suggests the Liberals have both attacked and, apparently, supported sole-sourced military procurement contracts in the last few weeks. "It's classic sucking and blowing at the same time," the Defence Minister contends.

Mr. MacKay is taking aim at Mr. Ignatieff's commitment this week that North Vancouver shipyards would get defence work if the Liberals were in government. He says the Liberals appear to be promising to hand out contracts without competition by guaranteeing that North Vancouver would get work.

This stands in stark contrast, Mr. MacKay said, to the Liberal Party's trenchant criticism of the Harper government for its July decision to sole-source the job of building new fighter jets. The contract is going to Lockheed Martin for F-35 planes.

Now the Tories are being a bit coy here - acknowledging they're certainly not ruling out giving work to North Van shipyards. They've promised at least two big Canadian shipyards would share the work of building bigger military vessels and that smaller ones would split up the work on lesser ships by themselves.

Mr. MacKay insists that any shipyard that wants contract work has to bid for it and is not guaranteed to win - even the North Van shipyards. "There's a good chance they will get some of the work and certainly they're in the running for some work," he acknowledges.

The Liberals say Mr. MacKay is twisting Mr. Ignatieff's words.

They insist the Liberal Leader didn't guarantee shipbuilding work for North Vancouver shipyards.

"We said the exact opposite of what he's implying ... We would ensure shipbuilding occurs across the country, from the East Coast to North Vancouver, across a number of suppliers as part of a comprehensive approach to steady shipbuilding investment," spokesman Michel Liboiron says.

"Mr. Ignatieff was agreeing with the need to ensure that North Vancouver was included in plans to strengthen Canada's shipbuilding industry across a number of ports from coast to coast. That's quite different from guaranteeing a port any single contract - which is what the government has done with their sole-sourced stealth fighter."

The Liberal spokesman says the Conservatives have lots to answer for in delays and belt-tightening, including the interruptions in efforts to build the floating fuel and supply warehouses known as joint supply ships.

"The Tories have starved the navy of funds, cancelled [and]then restarted the joint supply ship replacement project and failed to provide a shipbuilding strategy from coast to coast," Mr. Liboiron says.

But it's no ironclad promise of the kind Mr. Ignatieff appears to have made, the Tory minister said. "So the Liberals are for competition for the F-35 but they're against competition for shipbuilding because they'd guarantee awards for North Shore shipbuilding."

On Tuesday, Mr. Ignatieff promised a North Vancouver-based newspaper that Canadian naval ships would be built in nearby shipyards for the first time in decades should the Liberals form the next government.

"Of course we will," Mr. Ignatieff told the North Shore News. "We need balance. There are shipyards in Atlantic Canada. There are shipyards on the St. Lawrence and there are shipyards out here. We need a balanced program in terms of long-term stable employment on both coasts."

The Liberals tore into the Harper government last month for awarding the F-35 contract without competition, suggesting that it's unhealthy for government procurement to work this way.

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