Quebec's Davie shipyard is offering to take over one of the federal government's much-delayed signature projects — a new polar icebreaker dubbed the Diefenbaker by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The offer is a challenge to the federal government's troubled shipbuilding strategy, which is unlikely to see that icebreaker in service for at least 10 years.
Three years into the $36-billion shipbuilding program, no steel has been cut for any of the planned vessels and the Diefenbaker is a name with no ship.
That's because the government has given the job of building it to the Seaspan shipyard in Vancouver — and Seaspan needs extensive upgrades to handle the job.
In addition, the government wants Seaspan to build two naval supply ships before even starting work on the icebreaker.
Then there's the price. The government originally earmarked $720 million for the project but, once it became clear that there would be a decade of delay, increased the budget to $1.3 billion.
Could 'build today'
Enter Davie, with an aggressive new bid to do it for the original budget — starting immediately.
Alex Vicefield, the CEO of Inocea, an international shipping conglomerate which now owns Davie, says his shipyard is fully capable of building such a large ship in just 24 months.
He says Davie, on the south bank of the St. Lawrence across from Quebec City, remains the biggest yard in Canada. The shipyard, he says, has 1,000 employees delivering advanced commercial ships on budget for international customers.
Davie recently finished the first of three $200-million offshore construction ships for a Norwegian customer.
"We have the capability to build today," Vicefield told CBC News in an exclusive interview.
"We're offering the government to help complement the program with existing capacity that's running and fully operational today. The main project that we've offered ... has been the polar icebreaker. We're building ships which are of a similar size, similar technology, some of the capabilities to date, and we could add that into our existing programs quite easily," Vicefield said.
"We would go for the original price, that's our proposal."
'Claim is not credible'
That offer was submitted late last year, but there's been no formal reply from the government.
However, a spokesman for the Public Works department, Pierre-Alain Bujold, told CBC News that the department in charge of federal procurement has not spoken to Davie "about their assumptions underlying their claim that they could build the polar icebreaker at a significantly reduced cost."
"We believe that their claim is not credible," Bujold said.
"We look forward to working with Seaspan on building the polar icebreaker," he added.
Bujold also noted that Davie lost the bidding when the shipbuilding plan was written three years ago. At the time, Davie was in bankruptcy, which was a black mark working against its bid.
Vicefield says Davie now has a proven record of delivering ships on budget.
'Capacity exists already'
Seaspan president Brian Carter told CBC News he had no comment. Davie, however, seems determined to challenge the shipbuilding program.
Asked if it made sense that Seaspan's two supply ships are costing more than four larger ships being built for the British navy, Vicefield said, "no."
The Inocea boss also said it made little sense to hold up the whole shipbuilding plan while Seaspan and Irving do their upgrades — saying that Davie needs no such improvements.
"If you look at the existing ships and the existing capacities of shipbuilding in Canada today, I don't see why you would need to spend money to upgrade capacity because the capacity exists already."