Time to stop complaining about Bluenose II cost overruns: deputy minister

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WATCH ABOVE: The top bureaucrat in charge of the Bluenose II told a committee of MLAs it’s time to move on from the controversial recent history of Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador and focus on its positive story. Global’s Marieke Walsh explains – Feb 8, 2017

It’s time to stop criticizing and complaining about the troubled restoration of a Canadian icon, the deputy minister overseeing the Bluenose II revitalization said Wednesday after years of technical missteps that have seen the project’s cost balloon to about $25 million.

READ MORE: Bluenose II rudder replacement underway, cost estimate remains at $25M

Paul LaFleche said the divisive debate about the storied schooner’s prolonged rebuild only hurt the province’s shipbuilding industry and tarnished the image of the 43-metre vessel, a replica of the original Grand Banks fishing schooner that won worldwide fame for its design and speed.

“I’m here to implore everybody to move on,” LaFleche, of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, told the public accounts committee.

“Everybody made mistakes … The real issues come up because of the politics of this and we as civil servants wish that everyone would step aside from the politics of this.”

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LaFleche said part of the problem was that different political administrations made mistakes in handling the troubled file as it changed hands and departments since it was first announced in 2009 as a $14.4-million endeavour.

All three parties could be said to wear some blame for the debacle. The restoration project was announced by a Progressive Conservative government prior to the 2009 election, and much of the work was carried out under the watch of the former NDP government before the Liberals took power in 2013.

The cost is now pegged at $23.8 million – and will increase once a new rudder is factored in.

READ MORE: Bluenose II to return to wooden rudder, steel version proves heavy, clumsy

The province announced last March that it will replace the Bluenose II’s troublesome three-tonne rudder and steering system, the latest development in a saga that saw the replica vessel hit the water more than four years late.

The installation of the controversial steel rudder – which is more than 10 times heavier than the original’s wooden rudder – was singled out in a report by the province’s auditor general for helping to delay and add significant costs to the project.

Those costs included a $700,000 hydraulic steering system that was needed to deal with the terrific force required to turn the rudder for the 300-tonne ship.

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LaFleche said the wooden rudder is now in the final stages of construction at Snyder’s Shipyard, while Lunenburg Industrial Foundry and Engineering are providing the berth. The province has said the rudder will likely cost about $500,000.

READ MORE: Former sea captain says province made ‘total hash’ of Bluenose II restoration

NDP member Lenore Zann said that while the criticisms may not be helpful, taxpayers have been frustrated over the ongoing process and the soaring costs.

“It seems like it was just a comedy of errors with all of the things that have gone wrong and I know the public is frustrated because it’s costing so much and they’d really like to just see it built and not have to foot this much larger bill,” she said.

Nova Scotia paid the companies that rebuilt the Bluenose II $1.7 million for reputational damage as a result of the government’s mismanagement of the file.

At the public accounts committee on Wednesday, it was revealed that the money was paid as part of a $5 million settlement announced last March. But until the committee meeting the government hadn’t revealed that some of that money was for reputational damage to the three companies involved.

The news release announcing the settlement said the $5 million settlement was for “outstanding delay claims.” But through questions from Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston it became clear the settlement covered much more, including change orders, legal and expert fees, and damage to reputation and lost opportunity.

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Asked why the information wasn’t released earlier Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said it wasn’t “intentional” and that the mismanagement of the Bluenose II file “impacted” the three companies.

“This really hurt the three companies, it put their businesses in jeopardy,” MacLellan said.

The three companies involved were Snyder’s Shipyard Limited, Covey Island Boatworks and Lunenburg Foundry and Engineering Limited. The three created the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance which built the Bluenose II.

– With files from Marieke Walsh, Global News

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