Cheered by hundreds of workers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed an agreement in principle paving the way for the next generation of navy ships.
The Irving yard in Halifax had won the right to bid on the largest part of the new fleet. On Thursday, Mr. Harper said they were closing in on contracts for these ships, noting that replenishing the navy would involve 75-million hours of labour over decades.
"We are moving quickly to put in place the contracts required to build the ships that our country needs to defend its waters and do its share on the international stage," the Prime Minister said.
He called the agreement "a milestone" in the shipbuilding procurement, which is being billed as the largest in Canadian history.
"We worked extremely hard to prove that we were worthy of this selection," said Steve Durrell, president of Irving Shipbuilding. "We won this on a merit-based competition."
The Irving yard was selected in the fall by bureaucrats, a process designed to minimize allegations of political meddling, and this event was the first opportunity for the federal government to take credit. Mr. Harper was scheduled to make a similar appearance later Thursday at the yard in British Columbia that will build a smaller number of ships.
The office of Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who was not invited to the event, put out a statement saying "the future starts here" and praising the work at the yard.
"The province will continue to work ... to make sure the members of our military go to work on the best ships possible," he said.
The Irving yard is expected to build upwards of 20 ships. The contracts for these ships will total about $25-billion, though not all of that will be earned in Nova Scotia. Machinery, weapons systems and other components are expected to be sourced from companies in other provinces.
Asked whether the ships would be designed in Canada, Mr. Harper said that many decisions remained to be made.
"Obviously we try to minimize design costs but there will be ultimately Canadian design components involved in all of this," he said.
Jim Irving, CEO of the family firm, later told reporters in a scrum that "we'd like to do as much work in Canada as possible."