From Halifax to North Van: Harper heralds ship contracts — UPDATED
By Sean Kolenko and Todd Coyne
More than 6,000 kilometres from where he began the day, Prime Minster Stephen Harper spent his afternoon in North Vancouver celebrating a contract he said will bring three decades of stability to the local and Canadian shipbuilding industry.
Before a crowd of local politicians, shipbuilding executives and dockworkers, Harper announced that the federal government had reached an $8 billion in-principle agreement with Seaspan Marine Corporation to begin building at least seven non-combat vessels for the navy and coast guard.
Part of Ottawa's National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, the Seaspan deal is one of two contracts awarded last October. The other went Halifax's Iriving Shipyards, which at $25 billion is the largest public contract in Canadian history. A third contract, valued at $2 billion, will be made available to shipyards across the country that did not win either of the larger options.
"For this occasion, it is very appropriate that we should be gathered in this truly historic part of B.C.'s great city on the coast. People have been building ships in North Vancouver," Harper said, "for more than 100 years and I'm delighted to tell you that here in this the traditional centre of Canada's West Coast shipbuilding industry, you will be starting a new chapter in the illustrious maritime history of this country."
Harper said the agreement will mean 4,000 jobs for B.C., to be split between Seaspan's North Van facility and other yards on Vancouver Island, also run by Seaspan.
Both Harper and Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth lauded the government's fair and transparent selection process, which awarded both contracts on merit, not political motivations.
"Th[is] agreement is a template or roadmap of how the government of Canada and Seaspan are going to work together for the next 25 to 30 years and the signing of the agreement is a significant milestone in that relationship," Whitworth said.
The Washington family, owners of Seaspan, have committed between $150 - $200 million in infrastructure upgrades and shipyard modernization, Whitworth added. Facility upgrades were an expectation of both winning shipyards.
The province has committed $50 million in training programs for Seaspan employees. Victoria was asked, said West Vancouver MLA Ralph Sultan, to help with the infrastructure upgrades but opted for the educational offering instead.
"The Washington Marine Group was hoping the province would chip in some but the province said no. So, that $150 - $200 million is private capital," said Sultan, in a phone interview.
"It was a good day for B.C. The continuity that comes from this, 30 years, this is a long-term commitment. There will be lots of work to spread around. It's hard for me even to grasp, get my mind around how big this is. This is not just another deal down on Pemberton Avenue. This is a big deal."
Seaspan will be hiring hundreds of new workers, said Whitworh. Construction of the first ships is expected to begin next year. The first vessels to be built, according to a release from the Prime Minister's office, will be Canadian Coast Guard science vessels.
"Things will move more quickly here than the East Coast situation because there there are much more complex design issues with some of the boats so it's a slower process but here we can move quite rapidly," added Harper.