Will this important contract go back to Vancouver instead of being awarded to Davie?
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An interprovincial standoff is underway within the Trudeau government. Its outcome will determine which of the country’s major shipyards will win the lucrative contract for the Diefenbaker, the polar icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard.
The stakes are high: the federal government has never ordered such a large ship. Davie is convinced that the project should come back to him. But the return to the race of Seaspan, a Vancouver shipyard, muddies the waters.
Radio-Canada has learned that a group of Quebec ministers is working to block an offensive by colleagues from other provinces in favor of Seaspan, which could greatly reduce the chances of Davie and Quebec of obtaining this lucrative contract.
Seaspan got ahead of Davie in reviewing the case. According to our sources, only his project was recently presented to the Cabinet committee responsible for the economy and the environment.
Faced with lobbying from Seaspan, Quebec ministers want to ensure that Davie, located in Lévis, has a real chance of winning the contract, indicate several sources within the government and the naval industry. Prime Minister François Legault is active behind the scenes in favor of the Davie, and would not hesitate to make a public outing if he feels that the construction of the ship is escaping Quebec.
According to our information, nothing has been decided yet. A decision is expected in the coming weeks. The file has not yet been submitted to the entire Cabinet. But many ministers are mobilized.
Those from Quebec, in particular, have trouble understanding the fact that Seaspan is back in the race. It should be noted that the Trudeau government removed the Diefenbaker from the West Coast shipyard order book last year. Ottawa made this decision due in part to significant delays at the site and scheduling conflicts in production.
At the same time, the Davie faces a special situation. The shipyard is not yet officially considered a full player in the federal ship purchase plan. The negotiations to confirm its status have still not been successful. All this while relations seem strained between Davie and certain senior officials in Ottawa.
In theory, the renewal of the various federal government maritime fleets should provide enough work for all the major shipyards in the country.
In fact, the projects of the National Shipbuilding Strategy continue to fuel fierce lobbying campaigns with ministers from different regions of the country in order to obtain the biggest share of the pie.
Capacity problems at the Vancouver yard, smaller than those in Lévis and Halifax, forced Ottawa to reshuffle the cards. Especially since the pressure from Quebec in favor of Davie has never ceased.
Seaspan has many firm orders, including 16 vessels announced last year. If Davie officially becomes the third shipyard, he will be able to build six mid-size icebreakers. But until a framework agreement is signed, these contracts are only potential.
However, for both sites, the polar icebreaker would represent the ultimate trophy. Well-informed people now estimate that the bill for the project will be close to $ 2 billion.
The Harper government had named it John G. Diefenbaker, and its construction was announced in 2008. The ship was due to enter service in 2017. The goal: to replace the most powerful, but also the oldest, of the icebreakers, the Louis S. St-Laurent, which is over half a century old.
After removing the Diefenbaker from Seaspan’s order book, the Trudeau government announced that it was looking for other options for building the ship.
In February, Ottawa launched a request for information from major Canadian shipyards to find out how the polar icebreaker could be delivered in the most efficient and timely manner .
Seaspan plays the regional alliances card
The leaders of Seaspan have therefore returned to the charge and are waging a strategic campaign in their attempt to take over the contract for the polar icebreaker.
They first announced a partnership with the Heddle company, based in Ontario, which has three sites smaller than Davie. And in its efforts to convince Ottawa, Seaspan also brought in a Newfoundland company, Genoa Design International.
This is how the Vancouver builder has succeeded in rallying ministers from different parts of the country to his cause and in moving the file forward in Ottawa.
These alliances even prompted two premiers to publicly offer their support for Seaspan’s candidacy: John Horgan of British Columbia and Doug Ford of Ontario.
In the federal capital, some are waving red flags. It is very risky to return the project to Seaspan. Sounds good, it’s a game to please Ontario and Newfoundland. But it is butting , said a source who has worked closely on the file with the Canadian Coast Guard. We are playing with fire and the danger is that the government will be blinded by Seaspan.
Hurry up. Quebec ministers are trying to turn the tide and convince their cabinet colleagues that a fair and equitable process must be put in place.
The Quebec Liberals are playing big. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had resisted the idea of acquiring a Quebec lieutenant during his first term. But he gave in to pressure from his caucus after seeing the Bloc Québécois triple its deputies in the last general election.
He had therefore appointed Pablo Rodriguez – a liberal deputy and minister of experience – to this crucial post.
The Quebec team in Ottawa has seen some victories in recent months, including the inclusion in the Speech from the Throne this fall of a commitment to the protection of French across the country.
In the context of a minority government and a few months away from a possible election, Davie’s future is a test for the Liberal team in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is already on the attack and accuses Quebec ministers of not doing enough to prevent the polar icebreaker from being built anywhere other than Lévis.
At the moment, it is behind the scenes that Mr. Rodriguez is leading the Quebec counter-offensive. But when the decision is made, it could give a better idea of the real weight of the Quebec lieutenant in the federal machine.