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McNeil waits for word from Ottawa on number of Arctic patrol ships

HALIFAX – Premier Stephen McNeil says he is seeking clarification on how many Arctic patrol ships will be built in Halifax after the parliamentary budget officer concluded the federal government has not budgeted enough money to buy between six to eight of the vessels as promised.

McNeil says he wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week about the matter and he expects that the number of ships to be built by the Irving shipyard to remain unchanged.

READ MORE: Ottawa’s patrol ships order not changing: Irving Shipbuilding president

A report by the parliamentary budget officer says the federal government’s $3.1-billion budget for the project is only enough to build four of the ships.

The office of Public Works Minister Diane Finley says the report is wrong because it is based on erroneous information, rough cost estimates for international vessels with varying capabilities and it was unable to find reliable contemporary Canadian data.

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Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette says that’s because the government refused to give his office the information it needed to complete its report.

Speculation is premature: Halifax mayor

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said he understands the parliamentary budget officer was offering a warning, but it was too early to determine whether the speculation about the project was true.

“This is an important deal for us and we obviously have a lot at stake in this and we expected it to go ahead as it was,” Savage said.

“Every time we hear that’s something happening – that it’s not going to be (as many ships as we believed) – we hear from the other side that it’s going to be fine.

Savage said despite the reports, he believes there will be a lot of people working on the project a year from now.

“It’s a good project for halifax. We want to make sure that we maximize it.”

The union representing those workers is also optimistic the project will go ahead as planned. Lana Payne, the Atlantic Director for Unifor, said the union has been consistently reassured by the employer the project is on track.

She admits, however, the speculation can take a toll on the union’s members.

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“Many of them have been shipyard workers for very long periods of times so they’ve been through this kind of speculation before so I think they do take it in stride but obviously it causes some concern.”

With files from Rebecca Lau, Global News