Nova Scotia

Halifax shipbuilding bill not revealed

Nova Scotia taxpayers will have to wait to find out how much money the provincial government is spending on helping the Halifax Shipyard move ahead with building 21 Canadian combat ships.
While Premier Darrell Dexter and Jim Irving celebrated on Wednesday, there's no word on the cost of the project to taxpayers. (CBC)
Nova Scotia taxpayers will have to wait to find out how much money the provincial government is spending on helping the Halifax Shipyard move ahead with building 21 Canadian combat ships.

The Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard was awarded the $25-billion federal contract to build the next generation of warships for the navy. Vancouver's Seaspan Marine was awarded the $8-billion contract for seven non-combat vessels.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said there's no dollar figure yet for how much taxpayers' money will be spent, because the details of the contract have yet to be worked out.

"We were not going to take any chances with this bid. We were going to make sure that we did whatever we could to ensure that Irving could be successful, that they could win," Dexter said Wednesday.

The premier said the provincial government has promised to do whatever it takes to help the Halifax Shipyard in the process of building six Arctic patrol ships and 15 Canadian surface combat ships.

The province has also promised to help with spending on training and infrastructure, although the company has said workers would not be cutting steel for the new ships until late 2012 or early 2013.

"We said early on that we were going to do whatever was necessary in order to supply them with the wherewithal to be able to fulfil these contracts," said Dexter.

"What that will look like, of course, will depend on the details that are negotiated in the actual contract so we'll see where that goes."

Finalizing agreements

Irving Shipbuilding and Ottawa have yet to finalize an umbrella agreement that sets out the parameters of the long-term arrangement to build the ships.

Defense consultant Tony Goode said it's hard to predict the next 30 years. (CBC)
That should be signed by the end of the year, after which the two groups will negotiate the individual contracts to build the actual ships.

Irving Shipbuilding is hoping to have those contracts signed early next year.

Some are sounding cautionary notes about the Halifax Shipyard contract, because there's no guarantee the federal government will carry through on its commitment over the next 30 years.

"Government priorities can change … both fiscally and from a defence procurement perspective, that could indeed change," said Tony Goode, a defence consultant and former naval officer.

In the early 1990s, the Conservative government ordered 50 new helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings at a cost of almost $5 billion. One year later, the new Liberal government cancelled the contracts.

"Strategic circumstances around the world could change and say, 'Well, we don't need you to invest quite so much' or the deficit situation has become critical," said Goode.

He said it is important to remember that a lot can happen in the next 30 years.