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HMCS Preserver, the navy's 40-year-old Halifax-based supply ship, rests at drydock at the Halifax shipyards last year. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press) ((Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press))

Halifax is in the running to build a series of new warships for the Canadian Navy, but critics fear some of the work could go to the U.K.

The Harper government's "Made in Canada" strategy calls for such work to be done in the country and the government says five Canadian shipyards, including Halifax, are short listed to build the new warships.

The work would be worth billions of dollars, but there are reports that the British government is talking to Canada about collaborating on a warship.

Union leaders at the Halifax Shipyard, where 1,200 people are employed, expressed their concerns Wednesday.

"Our understanding is Canada is still pursuing a 'build in Canada' strategy for both combatant and non-combatant ships. This commitment is certainly vital to securing jobs and significant economic activity in Canada's shipyards," said Mary Keith, spokeswoman for Irving Shipbuilding, the owner of Halifax Shipyard.

"[It] is vital to securing jobs in Canadian shipyards and certainly we would be concerned if there was a shift in Canada's 'build at home' strategy."

The Halifax Shipyard hopes to be one of two Canadian yards that wins the nod to replace the Navy's aging warships. Keith said $5 billion in direct spending flowed from the frigates built during the 1980s at the Saint John Shipyard and the new project  could be at the same level.

Peter Cairns, president of the Shipbuilders Association of Canada, said his concerns began after a speech given in British parliament two weeks ago.

"The U.K. defence minister said the British government is in close discussion with Canadians on a possible collaborative program to develop a global combat ship," he said.

He said that worried him because last summer, Ottawa announced it would spend $35 billion building close to 100 vessels — including combat ships — in Canada.

Cairns wondered if "building" includes engineering and equipment, opportunities he fears could be lost.

"We make a lot of marine things here that go into the ships, and if we end up with British ships, that part of the industry will not contribute," he said.

Peter Stoffer, the NDP MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore, added his voice to those concerned Ottawa may be changing his mind.

MacKay says ships will be Canadian

Defence minister Peter MacKay rejected concerns on Wednesday that Ottawa may be backing away from its commitment to build new warships in Canada.

"The Department of National Defence routinely discusses interoperability, best practices, prices," said MacKay. "There is nothing to be alarmed about. As I said, we are building new ships here in Canada."