Nova Scotia

McNeil asks Harjit Sajjan for reassurance on shipbuilding deal

"I fully expect them to live up to the commitment," Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday of the Liberals, in response to a leaked briefing note highlighting soaring costs of federal shipbuilding contracts.

Leaked briefing note about cost overruns sparks questions about $39B project's future

Irving Shipbuilding was not specifically mentioned in the leaked briefing note. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A leaked briefing note on budget overruns prompted Nova Scotia's premier to seek reassurances Thursday from the Trudeau government that it remains committed to the national shipbuilding program.

"I fully expect them to live up to the commitment they made, which was they would be putting the appropriate amount of money aside to ensure the contract gets fulfilled," Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday in Halifax.

The briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, which was leaked to CBC News, warned overruns could scale back the number of vessels being built under the $39-billion national ship building procurement strategy launched by the Harper government.

The note said costs for some projects were soaring by as much as 181 per cent and others are on the cusp of being cancelled.

That prompted the premier's office to ask for reassurance from Sajjan, McNeil said. They have not yet received a reply. 

The briefing note did not specifically reference portions of the program awarded to the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said he's confident the Liberal government will fully fund the shipbuilding program. (The Canadian Press)

Up to 1,000 people now are working on the first of five to six arctic offshore patrol vessels. The yard has also been picked as prime contractor for the next generation of combat ships to replace the navy's frigates. That project is valued at $26 billion.

Irving declined an interview Thursday, but did send an email. 

"We regularly review technical and cost options to help the Canadian government identify the right solution that delivers the best value for Canada and meets the navy's requirements," spokeswoman Mary Keith wrote.

"We are focused on building ships in Halifax that are comparable in quality, cost and capability to those offered by leading European and U.S. shipyards."

The federal Liberals have repeatedly committed to maintaining the program. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The federal Liberals have repeatedly committed to maintaining the program.

In September, a campaigning Justin Trudeau came to Halifax and announced a Liberal government would opt out of the F-35 fighter jet program to ensure the navy gets what it needs.

"We will be able to guarantee the delivery of current procurements for the navy, we will keep those promises for the Halifax shipyards," Trudeau said to a crowd of supporters at Pier 21 in September.

While reacting to the leaked federal briefing material at the legislature, McNeil did not seem overly concerned. He said he trusts Trudeau's promise. 

"The previous government had not budgeted enough for the ship contracts," McNeil said.

"I believe [Trudeau] identified that and committed to putting funding in — and I expect him to do that."

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

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.

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