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The Globe and Mail

Shipbuilding contract will bring Nova Scotians home

Workers react after Ottawa's announcement that the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard is getting a $25-billion contract to build Canadian combat ships on Oct. 19, 2011


Having a local shipyard chosen for one of the biggest military procurements in Canadian history is more than a matter of dollars and cents to Nova Scotians, who hope it will help reverse the flow of young people out of the province.

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

Hundreds who were gathered at the yard, many waving small provincial flags, roared when the decision was broadcast from Ottawa.

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The $25-billion contract heading for the yard is expected to have a dramatic economic impact locally. It should create thousands of jobs and is projected to boost the province's GDP by nearly $900-million. During peak years, about $265-million in additional tax revenue should flow to all levels of government.

The decision is a big shot in the arm to the Irvings, cementing the powerful family's position at the heart of the province's economy and paving the way for decades of predictable revenues.

The Irving yard currently employs about 1,000 people building coast guard patrol vessels and refitting navy frigates. Wednesday's announcement will potentially double the workforce.

"I'm really happy for all the men and women in this yard who worked so darn hard," Irving Shipbuilding CEO Jim Irving said. "It's easy to celebrate today when there's good news. But there's not good news when it's tough going, you know – that's when you really find out how good you are. And these folks stuck with us and did a great job."

Both he and Premier Darrell Dexter stressed the human payoff that will flow from Ottawa's decision.

"We have a lot of young Nova Scotians, particularly from rural Nova Scotia, who have made their way out West," Mr. Dexter said. "We have families right now where one of the spouses is working in Alberta, while the kids are here and the other spouse is here. You know, we're going to be able to put families back together. That's an amazing thing about this kind of industrial opportunity."

Studies for 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 shipbuilding, it would average out to 8,500 additional jobs annually, the study found.

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"We're going to get all the best tradesmen from out West who want to come home to Nova Scotia," Mr. Irving told the cheering crowd.

The benefits will be spread beyond employment. The Greater Halifax Partnership 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.

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