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‘Never too late’ to fight for lucrative shipping contract Add to ...

The chief executive officer of a B.C. company seeking a cut of a $33-billion federal shipbuilding contract is saying the B.C. Liberals are not late in getting behind the bid.

Jonathan Whitworth, chief executive officer of Seaspan Marine Corp., said Tuesday the Liberals have long been active on the issue – coming to their defence as the B.C. New Democrats were vocally skeptical about the point.

Seaspan is the only West Coast shipyard that has qualified for the competition to submit bids for a piece of the 30-year contracts to produce combat, patrol and scientific vessels, which will be split between two Canadian firms. Seaspan has said the impact on B.C. could be equal to multiple Winter Olympics. The deadline for submitting bids is July 7.

Mr. Whitworth, interviewed after a boosterish news conference featuring Premier Christy Clark, said the Liberals were active on the file under former premier Gordon Campbell and with ex-finance minister Colin Hansen.

“They were all up and ready and going and we were getting the momentum, and unfortunately there was a leadership change, and the current Premier, she had no way of controlling that,” he said, expressing reluctance to get into the politics of the issue.

Mr. Whitworth said the federal election delayed the process, but that he did not think the delays would have any impact. “It’s never too late when you’ve got four weeks before a bid is due,” he said.

Ms. Clark has touted B.C.’s bid in the legislature, but restated her support out in the sunshine Tuesday before more than 200 Seaspan employees arrayed behind her in a fabrication shop at the company’s North Vancouver shipyard. The shop was filled with a massive piece of an oil barge.

Earlier Tuesday, NDP Leader Adrian Dix chastised the B.C. Liberals for being slow into the fight for the contracts – a position echoed by New Democrat Mike Farnworth, who also attended the news conference.

“I think other provinces have been out in front before us. They have been more aggressive. British Columbia needs to be just as aggressive in working with Ottawa and ensuring the company knows the province is behind them 100 per cent,” said Mr. Farnworth, whose brother works for Seaspan.

Ms. Clark, asked about the issue, noted the government was active on the file before she became Premier earlier this year. “We’ve been engaged on this issue for a long, long time now. This is a continuation of that,” she said, referring to her remarks and plans to make the case in as-yet-unscheduled meetings in Ottawa with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Ms. Clark said she will make the qualities of the bid clear to Mr. Harper and also emphasize that the bid has the unreserved support of the B.C. government.

“I think that makes a difference at the political level, to know that politicians are there and we’re backing it and we will do what we can to help,” she said. “I do think putting a little bit of political heft behind it can only help.”

Chris Darbyson, a 32-year-old apprentice steel fabricator at Seaspan, said he appreciated the Premier’s show of support.

“I think it’s great. It’s good to finally be recognized that we are a really good shipyard. I am pretty happy she came here to back us up a bit,” he said.

He said securing the contract would be a great relief, saving him from having to leave B.C. in search of work. “It’s finally going to mean not worrying about being laid off and having food on the table every day, and not stressing out to find another job.”

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