Bluenose II restoration costs continue to soar

CBC News has confirmed the Nova Scotia government has hired consultant Wilson Fitt for the Bluenose II project to report directly to Premier Stephen McNeil's office at a rate of $1,200 per day.

Province of Nova Scotia hires new consultant at a cost of $1,200 per day

The project's cost has ballooned to nearly $18 million, said Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince last month. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

After years of delays and budget overruns, the rebuilt Bluenose II schooner continues to rack up extra costs.

CBC News has confirmed the Nova Scotia government has hired consultant Wilson Fitt to report directly to Premier Stephen McNeil's office on the details of the restoration project, at a rate of $1,200 per day.

Fitt will provide a direct link between the premier's office and the builder, the operator and a new design team to resolve the latest problem — the too-heavy rudder and stiff steering mechanism "with the objective of allowing the vessel to safely operate for at least part of the season," the contract reads.

The premier's office says a new design team hasn't been brought in, but Fitt has the authority to hire one if required.

Fitt is not new to the project. He oversaw the reconstruction of the schooner on behalf of the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, the consortium in charge of the rebuild. It's unclear when he left that job or why.

His new $1,200-a-day project completion contract has no end date, nor does it mention the management company that has been in charge of the project to date — MHPM Project Leaders Inc.

McNeil's office said the province is continuing to pay the company up to $22,000 a month but declined an interview to clarify this new working relationship and why it is necessary.

Karla MacFarlane, the Progressive Conservative critic for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, said the project has become an embarrassment. She called on the premier to come clean on why the project requires so much oversight.

"How much more will the taxpayers be on the hook for this?" she asked.

"Nova Scotians deserve to have the premier stand up tell them why this has been such a mess."

Renewed calls for accountability

Last year, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation called on the province to fire MHPM Project Leaders Inc. after the cost of the consultant ballooned to triple what it was to receive in the original contract. 

Kevin Lacey, speaking for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, renewed those calls on Tuesday.

"The government needs to bring in accountability on this project and fire those who have been responsible for ensuring this boat is late and over budget," he said.

Lacey said it's time for someone to take responsibility for the problems with the Bluenose II restoration project.

"More money going to consultants, when really it's time to see some accountability with the project," he said.

"When are we going to get somebody to pay for the consequences of having this boat being late and over budget?"

The high-profile restoration project is two years behind schedule and more than $4 million over budget. The original budget for the project was $12.5 million and the latest estimate stands at $16.7 million, but the government has admitted labour costs will push that amount higher.

Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince said last month that the project's cost had ballooned to nearly $18 million.

There's also no word yet on when the schooner will be allowed to leave dock to undergo sea trials.

Earlier this year, Premier Stephen McNeil called the project a "boondoggle" and asked the auditor general's office to investigate. It has since begun an audit of the project.


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