Nova Scotia

Irving Shipbuilding shows off world's 'most modern shipyard' in Halifax

Irving Shipbuilding officials showed off their modernized facilities at the Halifax Shipyard on Friday, only days after the federal government announced it was retooling the biggest shipbuilding program in Canadian history.

Irving is ramping up as Ottawa is tweaking its combat ship procurement program

The assembly hall at the Halifax Shipyard is as long as four football fields. (Sabrina Fabian/Radio-Canada)

Irving Shipbuilding officials showed off their modernized facilities at the Halifax Shipyard on Friday, only days after the federal government announced it was retooling the biggest shipbuilding program in Canadian history.

Kevin McCoy, the president of Irving Shipbuilding, took media on an extensive tour the company's Dartmouth steel fabrication facility and its new assembly hall at the Halifax Shipyard.

"What you see in this facility is the biggest shipbuilding facility in North America and probably the most modern in the world," McCoy told reporters from the cavernous Assembly Hall, which is as long as four football fields.

While Irving has been ramping up, Ottawa is tweaking the procurement program for the combat ships — the largest piece of the national shipbuilding program. The cost of replacing the navy's frigates and destroyers starting in the 2020s is estimated at $26 billion.

Combat vessel price unknown

Last week, the federal government said it now will select a pre-existing design for the combat ships to save both time and money. Ottawa is also consulting others in the industry.

On Friday, McCoy said Irving — the prime contractor for the project — is on board.

"It made a whole lot of sense not to do a developmental action for the ships or combat systems, but partner with somebody who has built the ship already or has it in production," he said.

"There are several advantages: less cost, less development risk, more cost certainty. It also takes two years out of the timeline."

The move should eliminate any gap between the completion of the Arctic offshore patrol ships, now under construction in Halifax, and starting the combat vessels, McCoy said.

Irving expects to build 15 combat vessels for the navy, although McCoy refused to say how much it would cost.

The company expects an off-the-shelf design for the warships will be picked in early 2017, and to have a signed contract to build them by late 2019 or early 2020.

Tour helps justify costs, analyst says

Ken Hansen, a Dalhousie University defence analyst, said the media tour is part of a promotional effort the company needs to justify the program's cost.

"People have differing views about what is the most important thing to do with their tax dollars," Hansen told CBC News.

"Building a fleet of warships that's replacing a Cold War fleet on a one-for-one basis and type-for-type approach may not be the right idea."

The first Arctic offshore patrol vessel's hull will be built around this keel. (Sabrina Fabian/Radio-Canada)

'Part of this is justifiable pride'

In addition to trying to protect its interests in a fight for federal dollars, Hansen said Irving now has something to show four and a half years after it won the right to build Canada's next generation of warships.

"Part of this is justifiable pride," Hansen said. "They have something coming off the line."

The first keel section of the first Arctic offshore patrol ship — to be named Harry DeWolf — is now in the yard's paint shop.

The keel — or the rod around which the hull is built — is one of 62 sections that will be combined into three big blocks including bow, centre and stern. Each will weigh 2,000 tonnes and will be assembled into one ship.

The first Arctic offshore patrol ship will be launched in 2018.

Irving Shipbuilding says it's employing around 1,200 people. (CBC)

Jobs increase

The company said employment at the yard is now at around 1,200. It is also upgrading HMCS Toronto, the last of Canada's frigates to have a mid-life modernization.

The number of people working directly on the national shipbuilding program is now nearly 800, which is double from a year ago.

The company said it has spent $405 million so far on Nova Scotia company contracts, which it said has generated 4,617 direct and indirect jobs.

In 2011, the Dexter government promised Irving more than $300 million to help with the shipbuilding contact, including $260 million loan to help modernize the yard.

Media footage screened

The tour ended with Irving officials screening footage on journalists' smartphones, still cameras and television cameras on the grounds of security.

In particular, company staff were looking for computer screen images, for example, 3D images and close up details of joints.

The company claimed it was acting on behalf of the federal government to protect "sensitive technical information."

No one from the federal government was present.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.