Vic­to­ria to share in $7B ship project

Re­pair con­tracts for navy frigates to be awarded

Times Colonist - - Front Page - LIND­SAY KINES Times Colonist and The Cana­dian Press

Sea­s­pan’s Vic­to­ria Ship­yards is poised to share in $7 bil­lion worth of con­tracts that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment plans to award for main­te­nance and re­pair of Royal Cana­dian Navy frigates.

Pub­lic Ser­vices and Pro­cure­ment Canada said Thurs­day that the work will be split among Vic­to­ria Ship­yards, Hal­i­fax’s Irv­ing Ship­build­ing Inc., and Davie Ship­build­ing in Lévis, Que. The spread­ing out of the work prompted crit­i­cism from a union of­fi­cial in Hal­i­fax.

The con­tracts are to main­tain Canada’s 12 Hal­i­fax-class frigates un­til the end of their op­er­a­tional life, es­ti­mated at an­other 20 years.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment said in a state­ment that af­ter con­sul­ta­tions, it was de­cided the three Cana­dian ship­yards were needed to work on the war­ships.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear how the money would be di­vided among the three.

Sea­s­pan’s Tim Page, vice-pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions, wel­comed the an­nounce­ment, but cau­tioned that there’s still a 15-day wait­ing pe­riod dur­ing which a com­peti­tor could step for­ward to bid on the project.

“I just want to make sure that we’re not jump­ing for joy be­fore we should be jump­ing for joy,” he said. “But it’s a good day for Sea­s­pan’s Vic­to­ria Ship­yards.

“It’s a recog­ni­tion by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of a long­stand­ing and ex­cel­lent work­ing re­la­tion­ship that’s been es­tab­lished be­tween us and the Royal Cana­dian Navy.”

Page said Vic­to­ria Ship­yards, which em­ploys about 1,100 peo­ple, has been re­fit­ting and re­pair­ing Hal­i­fax-class frigates since the mid-1990s.

There are cur­rently five frigates on the West Coast. Page said main­te­nance on each ves­sel can take up to a year and em­ploy about 400 trades­peo­ple.

“I think they’re in­tended to be docked ev­ery five years in ac­cor­dance with the pro­gram’s sched­ule for the class,” Page said.

“So if it be­gins in 2020 and it ends in 2040, then there’s the like­li­hood of three sep­a­rate dock­ings for each of the five ex­pected frigates.”

Phil Venoit, pres­i­dent of the Van­cou­ver Is­land Metal Trades Coun­cil rep­re­sent­ing union­ized ship­yard work­ers, said it was good to see the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­vest­ing in the navy. “This is all great pos­i­tive news and it will con­tinue to help pro­vide for jobs in the ship­build­ing and re­pair in­dus­try,” he said. “We’re ex­cited to con­tinue to do the work, that’s re­ally what it boils down to.”

Ge­orge MacPherson, pres­i­dent of the Ship­yard Gen­eral Work­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion, said the con­tract will mean sta­ble, pre­dictable jobs for peo­ple well into the fu­ture. “It’s nice to see that Davie got in there this time as well,” he said.

“That’s the three main yards in the coun­try be­ing looked af­ter.”

East Coast union of­fi­cials were less up­beat. David Baker-Mosher, pres­i­dent of the Uni­for Ma­rine Work­ers Fed­er­a­tion Lo­cal 1 at Hal­i­fax’s Irv­ing ship­yard, called the gov­ern­ment’s plans an “ut­ter dis­ap­point­ment.”

“Work­ers feel their fu­ture is be­ing jeop­ar­dized,” he said, not­ing that the de­ci­sion to split the work could mean lay­offs at Irv­ing. “It’s dis­ap­point­ing that our gov­ern­ment can­not un­der­stand how these ships are worked on and how much skill is needed.”

At is­sue is a gap be­tween the end of the Arc­tic and Off­shore Pa­trol Ships pro­gram and the start of the Cana­dian Sur­face Com­bat­ant pro­gram.

Irv­ing has in­di­cated in the past that re­pair work on the Hal­i­fax­class frigates would help mit­i­gate that gap and sus­tain jobs.

An Irv­ing spokesman de­clined an in­ter­view on Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment, but said the com­pany would pro­vide com­ment fol­low­ing an an­nounce­ment by De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan at Hal­i­fax Ship­yard to­day.

In Que­bec, the an­nounce­ment was greeted with re­lief by Davie Ship­build­ing, which has laid off hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees over the past year as work dried up. “There is fi­nally sta­bil­ity,” com­pany spokesman Frédérik Boisvert said.

Ot­tawa has faced pres­sure from the Que­bec gov­ern­ment to send more work Davie’s way.

The com­pany had 1,500 em­ploy­ees dur­ing work to con­vert a civil­ian ship into an in­terim re­sup­ply ves­sel for the navy, but the work­force has fallen to 250 since that ship was de­liv­ered in 2017. Davie has been seek­ing a con­tract to pro­duce a sec­ond re­sup­ply ves­sel.

Ken Hansen, an in­de­pen­dent de­fence an­a­lyst and for­mer navy com­man­der, said di­vid­ing the work among three ship­yards through un­ten­dered con­tracts is about pol­i­tics.

“Any work that is awarded to Davie is done for the sake of pol­i­tics,” he said. “It tells you that the power of the Que­bec cau­cus in the Lib­eral party is re­ally strong.”

Hansen said in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice is to do re­pair and main­te­nance work in the ships’ home port. “If the ships have to travel a dis­tance and get their work done else­where, it’s both in­ef­fec­tive and un­eco­nom­i­cal.”

The Royal Cana­dian Navy’s At­lantic fleet is based at CFB Hal­i­fax while the Pa­cific fleet is based at CFB Esquimalt.

Hansen said that the de­ci­sion to split the work harks back to a his­toric ap­proach to ship­build­ing in Canada. “The var­i­ous re­gions all had a slice of the ship­build­ing pie and what ended up hap­pen­ing … was this boom-and-bust cy­cle,” which led to re­peated gaps in work and lay­offs, he said.

Michael By­ers, a Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia pro­fes­sor and ex­pert on Cana­dian de­fence pol­icy, agreed that the de­ci­sion was likely in­flu­enced by pol­i­tics but called it a “de­fen­si­ble pol­icy choice.” He said “it’s likely a de­ci­sion made for a po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, but it’s not a de­ci­sion that threat­ens the vi­a­bil­ity of the ship­yards in Hal­i­fax or B.C.”

By­ers said that Irv­ing can also bid on work on the com­mer­cial market and shouldn’t ex­pect gov­ern­ment to fill ev­ery gap. “From a po­lit­i­cal point of view, it is in­ter­est­ing that the gov­ern­ment has found a way to po­ten­tially sat­isfy ev­ery­one,” he said. “From a votewin­ning per­spec­tive, that’s an op­ti­mal out­come for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer, in Que­bec City to meet with Premier François Le­gault, ac­cused the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of “ne­glect­ing the Davie Ship­yards.” He said the re­sup­ply ves­sel was de­liv­ered “on time, on bud­get, and now they’re de­lay­ing the sec­ond ship un­nec­es­sar­ily, which is cost­ing jobs here.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has said the work on frigates is nec­es­sary while the navy awaits de­liv­ery of re­place­ment Cana­dian Sur­face Com­bat­ant ships.

The New Zealand frigate Te Kaha un­der­goes a com­bat-man­age­ment sys­tem up­grade at Vic­to­ria Ship­yards in April. Main­te­nance of the Cana­dian frigates could take up to a year and em­ploy 400 peo­ple.

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