Trudeau pledges billions for new coast guard fleet but mum on how he plans to circumvent delays

Click to play video: 'Trudeau announces full renewal of Canadian Coast Guard fleet'
Trudeau announces full renewal of Canadian Coast Guard fleet
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Vancouver Wednesday to announce the renewal of the Canadian Coast Guard fleet. – May 22, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pledging billions of dollars towards revamping the fleet of the Canadian Coast Guard.

But when it comes to how that plan will actually work, the proposal may raise more questions than answers about whether it can overcome the consistent delays that have plagued the National Shipbuilding Strategy since its start, and some shipyard sources are already raising concerns about how long the plan will take.

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In a press conference on Wednesday, Trudeau announced the government will spend $15.7 billion to order 18 new ships for the coast guard: two of those will be additional Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships from Irving Shipyard in Halifax while the other 16 will be multi-purpose vessels from Seaspan in Vancouver.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy was launched by the former Conservative government as a means to stabilize the boom-bust cycle of shipbuilding in Canada.

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Canadian Coast Guard’s aging fleet to be replaced with 16 new ships

The work allocated under the program has seen repeated delays from both Irving and Seaspan, though, prompting reporters to ask Trudeau how the government expects the shipyards to get the additional work done and what kind of time frame they will be facing.

Trudeau refused to answer, saying only that he is confident in the skills of the people who work in the shipyards.

“I have tremendous confidence in the men and women who work in our shipyards across the country and their capacity to deliver the excellent ships that our coast guard needs and, quite frankly, that Canadians need,” he said.

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Federal officials also provided conflicting answers on how the timeline will work: for example, will the newly ordered ships go to the back of the line of commissioned work, or will they jump the queue?

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One government official said it will be up to the shipyards themselves to determine how they can best tackle the workloads.

Another said time frames will be sorted out later.

“Delivery dates for the new vessels will be identified as the project gets underway,” said Ashley Michnowski, press secretary to Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough.

She also declined to provide specific details about how long it will take to allow a third shipyard to qualify for work under the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Trudeau had also announced that a third firm will be allowed to go through a competitive process to qualify.

But there is only one other Canadian shipyard: Chantier Davie in Levis, Que.

That raises questions about why the firm would need to go through a competition if there is no one else for it to be competing against.

“The government of Canada is committed to ensuring a fair and transparent process to add a third Canadian shipyard as a strategic source of supply to the National Shipbuilding Strategy,” Michnowski wrote in an email. “Details about this process will be released in the coming weeks.”

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One source in the shipbuilding industry told Global News it’s not only officials who appear to still be trying to figure out the details.

Chantier Davie, who Trudeau acknowledged in his press conference could find “opportunity” in the proposal, apparently had no advance knowledge it would be allowed to move through a new competitive process to try to get more shipbuilding work.

The individual noted that while the renewal is welcome news, “there’s still gaping holes” in the plan around the timeline for the competitive process and when Irving and Seaspan will be expected to get the additional work done on top of the existing work they have on their plates.

Fred Boisvert, vice president of communications for Chantier Davie, also said the news is welcome but acknowledged while the firm has few details, it is confident.

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“The third shipyard that they keep alluding to — there’s no one else but Davie,” he said.

“We just need to make sure this novel intention is being followed up by concrete action and that is having Davie helping the two other shipyards get their commitments delivered on time and on budget because for the last seven years, unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.”

Boisvert said he wants to see the competitive process wrapped up quickly given there is no other firm in a position to compete.

Under the terms of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, Irving is expected to do the bulk of the work building combat ships.

Seaspan, on the other hand, is expected to focus on smaller research vessels and the permanent replacement for the navy’s supply ships.

Federal officials and Davie are slated to meet tomorrow on a separate matter but it is expected preliminary discussions of next steps will be raised.

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