Nova Scotia

Bluenose II power steering decision defended by Premier Stephen McNeil

Premier Stephen McNeil is defending his government's decision to spend $700,000 on a hydraulic steering system for the Bluenose II, even though it must now replace the steel rudder on the schooner and remove the hydraulics.

$700K system to be removed from schooner

Premier Stephen McNeil said the province had to install a costly steering system for the Bluenose II last summer in order to get a sailing season underway. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil is defending his government's decision to spend $700,000 on a hydraulic steering system for the Bluenose II, even though workers must now replace the steel rudder on the schooner and remove the hydraulics.

The work is to be done after summer's sailing season.

An engineering report commissioned by the province recommended the rudder be replaced with a much lighter wooden or composite one. That's because, according to Langan Design Partners report "the system is heavy, complex and by nature less reliable than a manual solution."

Coupled with the rudder, the report concluded, the added weight would put extra force on the structure of the schooner which would eventually "impact the rate at which the shape of the vessel will change over time."

Hogging, as it's known in the boatbuilding industry, is why the Bluenose II had to be rebuilt in the first place.

Liberals green light hydraulics

Although much of the planning — as well as delays and the added costs of the rebuild — occurred under previous NDP and Progressive Conservative governments, the current government gave the green light for the installation of the hydraulic system after the schooner failed its initial sea trial.

The steel rudder was simply too hard to turn and made manoeuvring very difficult.

A government appointed advisor concluded a hydraulic assist would solve the problem and the governing Liberals agreed.

Despite that, McNeil remained adamant that previous governments deserved more of the blame than his for the "off-the-rails" $25-million project.

"Let's be clear about something," he said Friday. "The major investments and overruns that have taken place happened long before we came into getting this file."

Rudder replacement 'small fraction' of cost

"The rudder change is an important piece for the long-term stability of the vessel but it is a small fraction when it comes to overall cost of this endeavour."

He said not going ahead with the installation of the hydraulics would have cost the Bluenose II its one and only sailing season so far.

"The 50,000 people that were on it and the investments that were made last summer, the attractions that were brought to this province have been a positive thing for the province," he said.  

As for the fact the schooner needs to be dry docked once again, the premier chose to focus on the end result rather than dwell on the past.

"I've been frustrated with the Bluenose file from the time we inherited it," McNeil said. "But I'm most proud of the fact that that ship had a great season last year and I'm looking forward to having another one this year.

"Our goal is to make sure this vessel is there for the long haul."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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