Beyond the Headlines

The Politics of Ship Contracts

Posted: Jan 12, 2012 1:17 PM ET Last Updated: Jan 12, 2012 1:17 PM ET

First it was Peter MacKay. On Thursday, it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's turn to take a shot at the provincial government.
Harper came to Halifax to announce an agreement in principle has been reached on the so-called umbrella agreement that sets the rules and conditions for the next 25 years of contracts to build new ships for the Canadian Navy.

It also gave the Prime Minister a chance to surround himself with hundreds of cheering shipyard workers - his first chance to get some political mileage out of the $33 billion dollar ship procurement strategy.
Still, he couldn't resist a jab at the Dexter government. After praising the Irving shipyard for winning the contract on its merits, without politicial interference, Harper said, "slick ad campaigns were ignored by the judges."
Now to be fair, he didn't mention the NDP government or the Ships Starts Here campaign by name, but everyone in the room knew exactly what he was referring to.
It's not the first time a member of his government has ridiculed the campaign. Shortly after the contact was awarded, Peter MacKay tried to downplay its impact by saying the Dexter government might as well have poured the money into the harbour.
You can see why the federal conservatives might be a little touchy. When the announcement was made last October, all the pictures showed Darrell Dexter celebrating with jubilant shipyard workers. There wasn't a Conservative MP within miles of the shipyard that day. That's because the Harper government went out of its way to make these contracts non-political. It appointed an independent panel to examine the bids, and senior politicians weren't told the winners until after they were chosen.
Thursday was a very different story.

As photo-ops go, this was impressive. Hundreds of shipyard workers were positioned all around the Prime Minister's stage. They stood on board ships, they were hanging on scaffolding, and they cheered as the Prime Minister re-iterated his governments commitment to Canada's shipbuilding industry. And before the announcement, select workers started grinding and welding -- on cue --  while photographers and videographers captured Harper visiting with workers on the shop floor.
Every Nova Scotia Conservative MP was in the VIP audience. Bernard Valcourt, the minister responsible for ACOA, even made the trip from New Brunswick. Mayor Peter Kelly was there, and even received a belated acknowledgement from the Prime Minister. But no Darrell Dexter or any member of his government.
There was one lone NDP politician in attendance. Sackville-Eastern Shore MP Peter Stoffer, who has lobbied long and hard on behalf of the ship building industry, stood quietly behind the VIP section, taking it all in.  The Prime Minister did not acknowledge his presence.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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