British Columbia

Build future ferries on West Coast, says premier

The huge federal shipbuilding contract won by B.C. should ensure the province never again goes offshore to build vessels for BC Ferries, says the province's premier.

Premier says B.C. industry could bid on domestic and foreign ferry deals

Workers at Seaspan Marine can expect years of work following Wednesday's announcement. (CBC)

The multi-billion-dollar federal shipbuilding contract for the West Coast should ensure the province never again has to go offshore to build vessels for BC Ferries, says Premier Christy Clark.

Seaspan Marine Corporation was awarded an $8-billion contract Wednesday to build non-combat naval and coast guard vessels for the federal government.

There are still bitter feelings in the B.C. shipbuilding industry over the 2004 decision to build three BC Ferries’ ships in Germany at a cost of $542 million.

Clark said Wednesday the new federal contract will give the West Coast shipyards a big advantage for domestic and international bids in the future.

"It won’t be just a matter of us building BC Ferries," Clark said. "We want to build ferries for countries all over the world here."

Thousands of B.C. jobs

It's always been believed that building ships for the Canadian Forces would also open the door for other marine construction, said George MacPherson, the president of the Marine Workers Union.

"I don’t think you will ever see another ferry built offshore," said MacPherson.

The contract also means jobs in industries directly and indirectly related to ship building.

The Coastal Renaissance was the first of three BC Ferries ships to be built in Germany. (CBC)
The B.C. government pegged the total spinoff at more than 4,000 jobs.

The bulk of the federal purchase — a $25-billion contract awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax — will also deliver benefits to B.C.

The Conference Board of Canada calculates the trickledown effect for such things as additional ship maintenance could create a further 1,500 jobs on the West Coast.

Clark says the Seaspan contract is the start of her job creation plan for B.C.

But the opposition is saying  the premier should not be so fast to take credit. NDP leader Adrian Dix says his predecessor Carole James was promoting the contract long before the Liberals took an interest.

"[James] raised this issue, lobbied on this issue, worked on this issue. My colleague Mike Farnworth has I think played a leading role in driving for this. And so we are pleased today that even though we didn't win the biggest share, still we did well here," said Dix.

And Conservative leader John Cummins says it's absurd for the Clark government to claim any credit, noting Seaspan won the contract after an independent process free of political interference.

"The B.C. government decided Germany was a good place to build ships for British Columbia," said Cummins.

Training programs in the works

Meanwhile some B.C, colleges and universities are gearing up to train the hundreds of workers that will be needed to build the ships. Educators say hundreds of new training spaces could be in place by the fall of 2012, but that will depend on how much the province is willing to contribute.

Camosun College is retooling its current trades programs like welding, pipefitting and metal fabrication from focussing on construction to marine industries.  College president Kathryn Laurin says it will offer new courses for specific groups of students.

"That include a marine trades entry program, and a women in trades program and an opportunity for aboriginal women to get involved in trades training."

Randall Garrison, the MP for Juan de Fuca where Victoria Shipyards is based, says he applauds the college for its affirmative actions, but says the shipyards need to follow through.

"I was hoping they would do a little more in terms of quotas for apprenticeships because the jobs actually have to be offered," said Garrison.

Shipyards to build navy's supply ships

The Deputy Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy says the $8 billion dollar shipbuilding contracts awarded to the West Coast shipyards are crucial to future naval operations.

Rear Admiral Mark Norman says the contract includes two supply ships to replace the 40 year old HMCS Protector and Preserver. When the new supply ships are completed five years from now they will extend the navy's operational capacity significantly, he says.

"Rather than being tied to gas stations around the world and having to constantly be worried about where you're going to get your next tank of gas, what this ship allows us to do is actually carry enough gas with us to go pretty much anywhere we need to go," he said.

"In addition to that it will have capability to support forces ashore, doing the types of humanitarian assistance that you saw last year off the coast of Haiti."


With files from the CBC's Terry Donnelly and Alan Waterman