16 Coast Guard ships to be built in $15.7B ‘fleet renewal’ plan in B.C.: Trudeau

Two other ships will be built in Nova Scotia

The federal Liberals have ripped open Canada’s multibillion-dollar plan to build new ships for the navy and coast guard, prompting cheers and frustration from shipyards in different parts of the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a Canadian Coast Guard vessel in Vancouver as a backdrop Wednesday to announce that Ottawa would spend $15.7 billion on new ships for the coastal service.

The spending includes two more Arctic patrol vessels from Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, which is building six such ships for the navy, and 16 so-called multi-purpose vessels from Seaspan Shipbuilding in Vancouver.

The coast guard desperately needs new ships: Documents obtained by The Canadian Press this year warned more than one-third of its 26 large vessels have exceeded their expected lifespans.

READ MORE: B.C. company awarded $230-million shipbuilding contract

And their advanced age affects the coast guard’s ability to do its job, including reduced search-and-rescue coverage, ferry-service disruptions and cancelled resupply runs to the Arctic.

“The men and women of the coast guard have been making do with the vessels they have, some of which are almost as old as the coast guard,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

“That is why we are doing a complete fleet renewal.”

Yet the biggest surprise came when Trudeau revealed the government intends to add a third shipyard as a partner in the national shipbuilding strategy, in an apparent nod to Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec City.

“Canada’s two existing shipyards don’t have the capacity to deliver the fleet renewal by themselves,” said Trudeau, who was flanked by Liberal ministers and MPs from the Vancouver area.

“So we’re also starting a competitive process for a third yard to help build ships when they’re needed.”

Seaspan and Irving were selected following a competition in 2011 as the two shipyards responsible for building billions of dollars in new vessels for the navy and coast guard.

Davie competed, but was passed over and has since fought for scraps outside the plan, including an interim support ship for the navy and three used icebreakers for the coast guard.

The Quebec City shipyard nonetheless aggressively lobbied for admittance into the shipbuilding plan, pointing to delays, cost overruns and the fact neither Irving nor Seaspan has delivered a vessel as proof the strategy needed to change.

Trudeau stopped short of guaranteeing Davie a spot at the table. Still, Davie spokesman Frederik Boisvert sounded beyond confident, saying the shipyard was clearly now part of the shipbuilding strategy.

“They recognize the fact that this strategy has been failing the government and the Canadian Coast Guard and the navy for years,” he said.

“This strategy badly needs extra capacity and that’s exactly what Davie Shipbuilding is providing.”

The mood was more sombre at Seaspan, where any celebrations over the government’s promise of 16 multipurpose vessels was dulled by the threat of Davie taking away work.

Seaspan was selected through the national shipbuilding strategy in 2011 to build four science vessels and a polar icebreaker for the coast guard, as well as two support ships for the navy.

While the Vancouver shipyard has been troubled by delays, including faulty welding on some of the ships, the company said it is now making headway. The first science vessel is scheduled for delivery next month.

In 2013, the previous Conservative government announced that Seaspan would build 10 other coast guard vessels afterward, but a deal was never finalized.

The promise of 16 new multipurpose vessels gives the company the clarity it has wanted, but Seaspan vice-president Tim Page said the entry of a third shipyard into the shipbuilding plan raises new questions about his company’s long-term viability — and that of the entire industry.

“We disagree with the need to add a third shipyard to meet the needs of our Canadian customers,” he said.

“We’re worried the entry of a third shipyard will return Canada to the boom-and-bust cycles that have defined previous federal shipbuilding programs.”

Irving Shipbuilding didn’t weigh in on the addition of a third yard, instead simply welcoming the government’s decision to purchase two more Arctic patrol vessels.

Irving was selected in 2011 to build five Arctic patrol vessels and the navy’s new fleet of 15 warships, which latest estimates peg at $60 billion. The Liberals ordered a sixth Arctic vessel and agreed to pay Irving to slow production at a cost of $800 million to prevent layoffs between the end of work on the last Arctic ship and the start of warship work.

Even then, federal bureaucrats and Irving have warned there was still the threat of an 18- to 24-month production gap between the two fleets.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Drivesmart column: Electronic monitoring pilot projects already underway

Our current system of trying to change driver behaviour largely consists of traffic tickets

Robert Barron column: Hats off to humanitarian workers

Saurazas didn’t seem to be fazed very much by the peril she was exposed to

Cowichan Valley jazz graduate wins prestigious scholarship

Bassist Brock Meades and drummer Graham Villette get $2,000 Fraser MacPherson Scholarship

Sarah Simpson Column: Getting antsy at the Duncan Days Parade

This story isn’t about bugs although there is totally a bug component.… Continue reading

Duncan Grande Parade draws a crowd

Entries old and new enjoyed by a big audience

Japanese Canadians call on B.C. to go beyond mere apology for historic racism

The federal government apologized in 1988 for its racism against ‘enemy aliens’

B.C. VIEWS: NDP pushes ahead with Crown forest redistribution

This isn’t the time for a radical Indigenous rights agenda

Two dead in two-vehicle crash between Revelstoke and Golden

RCMP are investigating the cause of the crash

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Alberta judge denies B.C.’s bid to block ‘Turn Off the Taps’ bill

He said the proper venue for the disagreement is Federal Court

Canadian high school science courses behind on climate change, says UBC study

Researchers found performance on key areas varies by province and territory

Six inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

The 26th ceremony in Penticton welcomed powerful figures both from on and off the ice

Most Read