Davie Shipbuilding says that unlike its rival, Irving Shipbuilding, it has never been notified by the federal government when journalists call Ottawa with questions about the Quebec company’s contracts or obligations.
“To date, Davie has not been notified by Public Services and Procurement Canada, Innovation Canada or the Department of National Defence about any media inquiries,” said Frédèrik Boisvert, vice-president of public affairs at Davie.
Ottawa defended its conduct last week after it was revealed that the Innovation Minister’s office alerted Irving that The Globe and Mail was seeking information from public servants about whether the shipbuilding company had claimed the Cavendish French fry plant as an industrial benefit under a major contract to build Arctic vessels for Ottawa.
Minister Navdeep Bains’s department in response said that it is contractually obligated to obtain the consent of Irving Shipbuilding, based in Halifax, before providing any information to the media about industrial and regional benefits agreements it has with the government.
Davie Shipbuilding, however, said it doesn’t believe Ottawa is similarly obliged to notify the Quebec firm when journalists call public servants about contracts it’s fulfilling for Canadian taxpayers. Davie has furnished the Canadian navy with a resupply ship and has arranged the acquisition of three icebreakers for the Canadian Coast guard. It has also been tapped to build two ferries for Atlantic Canada and will take on a major role in maintaining the Halifax class frigates.
The Innovation Ministry has repeatedly cited Section 13.2 of the standard contract that defence contractors sign when pledging to deliver industrial benefits for Canada, Terms and Conditions, which states that “The Contractor and the [government] will jointly coordinate public communications related to the Transactions.”
But Mr. Boisvert said that is not the way Davie reads the same section.
“Davie views Section 13 of its contract as an obligation related to formal announcements with the government and not something related to Davie’s regular media engagement or our communication with the public,” Mr. Boisvert said.
NDP MP Charlies Angus accused the government of operating a “rat line” to tip off powerful corporate interests such as the Irving family empire.
“This whole thing stinks,” Mr. Angus said. He went on to say that the Innovation Department’s actions fly in the face of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mission statement for all cabinet ministers when the Liberals formed government in 2015.
“We were given such clear promises in 2015, but time and time again, whether it was SNC-Lavalin or the Irvings, that this government is looking after very powerful friends and making a mockery of their obligation to Canadians,” he said.
The mandate letter Mr. Trudeau gave Mr. Bains when he became Innovation Minister in 2015 urged him to ensure his ministry was open and transparent and engaged in fair dealings with journalists.
“We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government," Mr. Trudeau told Mr. Bains in his mandate letter. “It is time to shine more light on government to ensure it remains focused on the people it serves. Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.”
“As well, members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, indeed all journalists in Canada and abroad, are professionals who, by asking necessary questions, contribute in an important way to the democratic process. Your professionalism and engagement with them is essential,” the letter continued.
The Globe tried to ask questions of Seaspan Shipyards of Vancouver − another major builder of government vessels − on the same topic but the company did not respond to repeated inquiries.