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Defence Peter MacKay arrives at a naval ceremon in Halifax with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Aug. 16, 2011. (SANDOR FIZLI/REUTERS)
Defence Peter MacKay arrives at a naval ceremon in Halifax with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Aug. 16, 2011. (SANDOR FIZLI/REUTERS)

Letter from N.S.

Shipbuilding math makes Nova Scotians nervous Add to ...

Many people insist they’re not affected by advertising. To which executives smile and continue to spend vast amounts of money because they know their ads hit home.

In much the same way, no one took it all that seriously this week when Peter MacKay said lobbying efforts would have no effect on the federal government’s $35-billion shipbuilding decision.

“To be clear, it will not be affected by politics, political pressure, or advertising,” the Defence Minister said during a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. MacKay is the sole member of cabinet to hail from Nova Scotia, which is spending somewhere upwards of $100,000 pitching the province as a logical choice for lucrative contracts. But in his speech he suggested that effort was pointless.

“While we appreciate the interest and the enthusiasm of our province and others on this federal initiative, the decision ... will be made by professional public servants judging the competence and best value of the bids,” he said.

At stake are enormous shipbuilding contracts. Two yards will get most of the work and the Irving Shipbuilding Inc. facility in Halifax is on the shortlist. The others are in Quebec and British Columbia.

“Just make it fair, make it transparent,” a person well-connected at the top levels of Irving told The Globe and Mail earlier in the long-running process. But the person didn’t seem entirely confident this would be the case, repeating the same comment several times over the course of a short conversation.

There are real concerns here that political considerations will allow Quebec to pip Nova Scotia to the post. Some here are even wondering if the federal government’s offer this week to support a Halifax convention centre was a pre-emptive (and much cheaper) consolation prize for not getting the shipbuilding work.

That may be paranoid. After all, the Conservatives were able to secure a comfortable majority with barely any presence in Quebec. Their attacks on the NDP over separatist links and their re-instatement of the Royal moniker for the military suggest little desire to kowtow to Quebeckers.

But if the political landscape shifts elsewhere and the Tories are looking to shore up support, Quebec has 75 seats and Nova Scotia has only 11.

It’s math that makes people here nervous.

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