Canadian premiers are openly flexing their political muscles for hometown interests as lobbying intensifies ahead of a July deadline for bids on the biggest round of federal government shipbuilding since the Second World War.
Ottawa is preparing to parcel out 30 years of work– everything from frigates to supply ships and patrol vessels – but the exercise threatens to cause the Harper Conservatives political grief.
Instead of spreading the work more broadly, Ottawa has decided to divide $33-billion in construction assignments between just two shipyards. Bids are due by July 7.
Pitting shipyards in three regions against one another, the competition ensures that one – the East Coast, Quebec or the West Coast – will end up a loser.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter journeyed to Ottawa Monday for meetings with Conservative ministers as well as government officials in charge of the process for selecting winners for the large-vessel contracts.
The NDP Premier is playing the nationalist card when knocking on Ottawa doors for Halifax Shipyard.
“We are the only bid that is a fully Canadian owned and operated shipyard facility,” Mr. Dexter said in an interview.
In British Columbia, meanwhile, Premier Christy Clark used her first legislature speech since winning re-election as an MLA to pledge a campaign on behalf of the West Coast vessel construction industry. Seaspan Marine Corp.’s Vancouver Shipyards is a big contender.
“To the workers at Seaspan, I say: We’re with you. To the company, I say: We’re behind you. To the people of British Columbia, I say: We have the commitment because we recognize the benefits that this will bring to our entire province,” Ms. Clark said.
The B.C. Premier vowed she would travel to Ottawa to advance Seaspan’s case if it would help.
Seaspan chief executive Jonathan Whitworth, who was in the public gallery listening to Ms. Clark’s speech, said he would like to see the Premier make the trip before the July 7 deadline for applications. He also called for financial backing from the B.C. government.
“We need three things. One would be what we got today, which is their support and voice on the legislature floor,” Mr. Whitworth told reporters after hearing the Premier’s speech. “The second one: The province and the municipalities support us with financial help, and the third one is to be heard in Ottawa.”
The winning shipyards will reap billions of dollars in benefits for the local economy.
“For Nova Scotia it would be like winning the Olympics every year for 30 years,” Mr. Dexter said.
Ottawa is expected to take at least 60 days to make decisions after the bids are submitted. Officials would only say an announcement on which two shipyards are successful is scheduled “for the end of summer 2011” – which means as late as Sept. 20 or 21.
The decision-making process will see Ottawa evaluate each bidder’s capacity, including what investments they promise to make.
One winner will be picked for the combat vessel construction package, which amounts to about $25-billion in work over 30 years.
Another will be selected to build non-combat ships, which amount to about $8-billion of work.
In the first five to eight years, both packages will pour roughly the same level of investment into shipyard work – and the non-combat order is expected to grow over time to include more replacement Coast Guard vessels.
The consolation prize for losing shipyards is they will be able to bid on an estimated $2-billion of construction work for smaller non-combat ships.