Shipbuilding contracts decision coming soon, Fantino says

Julian Fantino, Harper's minister responsible for defence procurement, says a decision on who will get billions of dollars in shipbuilding contracts will be reached within 'the next couple of weeks.'

Minister responsible for procurement expects government to award contracts in 'a couple of weeks'

Julian Fantino, the junior minister responsible for military procurement, left, with Defence Minister Peter MacKay, has confirmed Wednesday that a decision on $35 billion of government shipbuilding contracts is coming soon. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Massive government shipbuilding contracts worth an estimated $35 billion will be awarded within the next few weeks.

Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino, the junior minister responsible for military procurement, told CBC News on Wednesday that the decision-making process is in its final stages and the winning bid(s) will be announced in the "next couple of weeks."

The Canadian military is buying more than 30 new ships for the navy and the coast guard, including frigates, supply ships, patrol boats and icebreakers.

An estimated $35 billion worth of contracts are up for grabs as part of a strategy to cover Canada's needs for the next three decades. Two shipyards could be picked for the work from among the three bidders: Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Seaspan Marine in Vancouver, and the Davie Shipyard in Lévis, Quebec.

The deadline for proposals was extended by two weeks to July 21, which allowed the Davie bid to be submitted mere hours before the deadline.

The Davie shipyard had been in creditor protection since February 2010, and had to prove to the government that it was solvent in order to be considered qualified to bid.

In June, the government had said the selection process should be complete by early September. Even factoring in the deadline extension for bids, it is taking longer than expected.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose issued a stern warning to lobbyists in June that the decision would be in the hands of bureaucrats and be made based on strict criteria, in an effort to keep political considerations at bay in the government's largest-ever procurement process.

"It’s at arm’s length from all of us," Fantino said Wednesday.  "So I think what we need to do is just have faith that the system will be fair and transparent and we’ll have to deal with the recommendations as they come forward."

The pledge to keep politics out of the process hasn't stopped the premiers of both Nova Scotia and British Columbia from mounting aggressive campaigns in support of the bids from their respective coasts, touting the job creation and other regional economic spinoffs that could ensue.

The entire procurement process could take up to two years to conclude. 

One winner will be awarded the $25-billion combat vessel construction deal. Another bidder will be chosen to build the non-combat ships, which account for the remaining $8 billion of contracts initially. That order could grow to include more coast guard replacements.

Over the short term, both deals would result in about the same investment for a winning shipyard.

A losing shipyard may bid on an estimated $2 billion in construction work for smaller non-combat ships.

with files from James Cudmore