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Eight-billion-dollar shipbuilding contract gives buoyancy to BC jobs

Seaspan Marine Corporation, based in North Vancouver and owner of Vancouver Shipyards, has just been awarded a massive $8 billion contract from the federal government for non-combat vessels. Being a part of the largest procurement plan in Canadian history, this is going to mark an increase in job growth for the province, and also as the turnaround point for an industry that had been enduring a slow decay.

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By Joe Johnson (The Cascade) – Email

Date Posted: October 28, 2011
Print Edition: October 26, 2011

We’ve just witnessed another couple of crazy weeks here in BC. However, this time it’s been capped off with good news that everybody can be thrilled about. Seaspan Marine Corporation, based in North Vancouver and owner of Vancouver Shipyards, has just been awarded a massive $8 billion contract from the federal government for non-combat vessels.

Being a part of the largest procurement plan in Canadian history, this is going to mark an increase in job growth for the province, and also as the turnaround point for an industry that had been enduring a slow decay.

It was as far back as the 1990s, when the NDP had commissioned the Fast Ferries, that the industry had any sizeable projects in development. Since then, much of the skilled labour pool has either left the province to find better work in places such as Alberta’s oil sands or moved on completely. While those going through trade schools for a career in shipbuilding faced a not-so-hot reality. And when there was a chance to turn the fate around, such as when BC Ferries needed three new vessels a few years back, the then-Premier Gordon Campbell opted to send the contract to Germany instead of keeping jobs here.

But that’s in the past, and this is now. The contract won was actually only one part of a three part federal procurement strategy worth $33 billion. To create a strong cross-Canada industry, bids were taken from Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (Halifax) and Davie Shipyards (Quebec).

Irving was awarded the largest of the contracts at $25-billion for combat vessels, while the other contract is still to be awarded. But what’s nice to see about this is where these companies are from. The Maritimes can obviously use these jobs, and well, I’m happy we got them as well. Then, with Quebec being the big loser, it seems that politics were taken out of the evaluation process.

On not getting the largest of the contracts, Seaspan’s CEO Jonathan Whitworth has made it clear that in some ways the lesser contract has its advantages. A good deal of the money going to combat ships will be invested in the weaponry itself, while the Seaspan contract will see their money go solely into shipbuilding. And on top of that, there will be a lot more red tape involved with the military ships; meaning Seaspan won’t have to deal with the same scrutiny and barriers as Irving.

And now, if you’re like I was and still feeling a little let down, just consider the 4000 direct and indirect jobs that this contract will provide for the province. Welders, electricians, fabricators, engineers, you name it – they will all see long term security over the next 15-20 years. Students at our own Trades & Technology Centre, which offers programs in many of the relevant fields, will have a much easier time getting jobs out of the gate. They won’t have to worry and struggle and fight with each other just to get the most basic of jobs.

For a BC company to be awarded this contract is perhaps only a signifier of much better things to come. We saw September give rise to some 32,000 new jobs in the province. Those are astounding numbers, and accounted for half of the entire country’s job growth. We also have Premier Christy Clark’s upcoming trades mission to China and India to look forward to, which will hopefully help bolster jobs here in BC. While the world is teetering economically, BC is looking buoyant beyond the rest.

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