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Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and British Columbia's Christy Clark are shown in a photo combination. (The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail)
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and British Columbia's Christy Clark are shown in a photo combination. (The Canadian Press and The Globe and Mail)

N.S. and B.C. Premiers hail 'Olympic' shipbuilding victories Add to ...

Nova Scotians were exulting after a local yard won a $25-billion shipbuilding contract, which Premier Darrell Dexter had compared to “hosting the Olympics each year.”

Workers at the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard had been eagerly anticipating the announcement, saying 30 years of steady work could mean the difference between a career in Nova Scotia and having to leave the province for a job.

Hundreds who were gathered at the yard, many waving small provincial flags, roared when the televised announcement was made.

“We're going to get all the best tradesmen from out West who want to come home to Nova Scotia,” said Irving Shipbuilding CEO Jim Irving.

Mr. Dexter postponed his departure on a trade mission by half a day to react to the announcement.

“Winning this contract will mean decades of industry stability,” he said.

In Victoria, cheers erupted in the B.C. Liberal caucus room – where Premier Christy Clark was watching the announcement – moments after Ottawa gave Vancouver’s Seaspan Marine Corp. an $8-billion shipbuilding contract.

Although the British Columbia government did not become an enthusiastic booster for the Seaspan bid until very late in the process, Ms. Clark used her debut as Premier late this spring to announce her support.

Seaspan won the smaller of the two prizes but Ms. Clark compared it with the euphoria in Vancouver and Whistler after winning the bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“It was like the Olympics there, don’t you think?”

Ms. Clark said the contract for non-combat vessels was critical to her jobs agenda.

“You know what’s so great about this? It’s the beginning of a jobs plan for British Columbia. What this means is, we will see thousands of jobs come to British Columbia as a result of this federal money.”

She said her government put “substantial support” behind the B.C. bid, but at the same time said that commitment will be scaled back. The province had offered $40-million in tax credits for apprenticeship and training programs. Ms. Clark said that was based on a $25-billion contract and it will now be pro-rated to reflect the smaller amount of work.

After speaking briefly with reporters, Ms. Clark called Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth to congratulate him – and to take partial credit for the victory. “It was great working with you, I’m glad we were successful together.”

The Irving shipyard currently employs about 1,000 people in Halifax building coast guard patrol vessels and refitting navy frigate. Wednesday’s announcement will eventually translate into a spike in employment.

Studies by the Greater Halifax Partnership indicate that a successful bid for the biggest contract would mean an additional 11,500 local jobs, both direct and indirect, during peak production years. Over 30 years of ship building it would average out to 8,500 additional jobs annually, the study found.

And the benefits will be spread beyond employment. The study predicted an increase of 420 new homes constructed and 750 new cars sold each year of peak production. Other spinoffs are projected to include nearly $50-million annually in groceries and restaurant meals.

Nova Scotia had been gunning for the contract, including its role in a $1.4-million publicity campaign. The bulk of the cost was picked up by the province and Irving Shipbuilding, with other partners and media contributing about a quarter-million.

“There simply is no better place in Canada to build ships,” Mr. Dexter had said as he launched the Ships Start Here campaign in the spring. “Winning this bid would equate to hosting the Olympics each year for 30 years.”

In North Vancouver, dozens of workers gathered outside Seaspan's shipyard to celebrate the news Wednesday afternoon.

Butch Sidey, a production welder, has been working at Seaspan for 33 years. He got his first job as a tacker just one week after his high school graduation.

Mr. Sidey said it had been a “hard” few months waiting to find out if Seaspan won the contract.

He said he knew the future of the company, and even the shipbuilding industry in the province, was at stake.

“There was no for sure guarantee they would stay open. This will keep the yard open for another 10 years at least.”

“It doesn't get any better than that.”

With a report from Laura Kane in North Vancouver

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