N.S. premier wants Ottawa to set Quebec yard straight on who builds ships

Stephen McNeil says he expects Ottawa to honour its multi-billion dollar commitments to his province


Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil talks with reporters at the annual Council of the Federation meeting in Charlottetown in 2014 as then Alberta premier Dave Hancock looks on. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil at the annual Council of the Federation meeting in 2014 as then Alberta premier Dave Hancock looks on. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s premier waded into the looming battle over the future of the national shipbuilding program on Thursday, saying he expects Ottawa to honour its multi-billion dollar commitments to his province.

Stephen McNeil reacted to news that Chantier Davie Canada Inc. had last month submitted an unsolicited bid to the Trudeau government, offering to deliver six icebreakers and support ships to the coast guard faster and cheaper than what’s already planned under existing federal strategy.

Details were contained in a series of documents leaked to The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

The Quebec-based yard also kicked it up a notch when it was revealed on Thursday that Davie also dropped a second unsolicited bid on the federal government to build a heavy icebreaker from scratch.

Both proposals undercut Vancouver-based Seaspan shipyards, which won the right to construct all federal civilian ships five years ago. Nova Scotia-based Irving Shipbuilding was the winner for the exclusive right to build warships for the navy.

McNeil was startled to hear about the developments following Thursday’s provincial cabinet meeting, and launched into a defence of the program.

“It seems odd to me,” said McNeil. “That work has been committed to other yards … and I as the premier of Nova Scotia expect the national government to keep its commitment made to the shipyard here in Nova Scotia.”

Although the report appears to be of immediate concern to the Vancouver yard, McNeil warned against any moves that would jeopardize the work given to Halifax-based Irving.

McNeil was asked whether Ottawa should make it clear that there are existing commitments to two yards under the strategy.

“I would say they should, but we will see what they do,” he said.

McNeil said he would seek clarification from the federal government on what the Davie bid means.

A spokesman for the federal procurement department wouldn’t confirm receipt of the Davie proposal on Wednesday, but said no request for proposals for additional ships had been issued.

On Wednesday, documents leaked to The Canadian Press outlined details of an unsolicited proposal _ delivered late last month to Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote _ for the construction, or conversion, of six light and medium icebreakers.

Details of a separate, second unsolicited proposal, were leaked on Thursday, saying the Levis, Que., yard is offering to built a brand new $794 million heavy icebreaker _ known as a Polar Class 2.

The proposal, which was rejected in 2013 by the former Conservative government, is in direct competition to Seaspan’s existing plan to build a massive icebreaker, already named after former prime minister John Diefenbaker, to replace the coast guard’s five-decade-old Louis St. Laurent, which is currently undergoing a life-extension refit.

The pitch contained a shot at the Harper government.

“Please note that had the Davie proposal received proper attention we believe it merited, we would be delivering a Polar Class 2 icebreaker to the Canadian coast guard by the end of 2017,” said a March 7, 2016 letter to Foote, obtained by The Canadian Press. “Instead, we are once again repairing and refitting Canada’s 1966-built polar icebreaker and the delivery of the CCGS Diefenbaker is at least 10-15 years away.”

Davie said its icebreaker would be privately financed and ready for service in four years, as long the federal government agreed to go with an existing design.

— With files from Murray Brewster in Ottawa.