1 avril 2019 | Local, Naval

Two federal ministers offer lifeline for Quebec’s Chantier Davie shipyard


QUEBEC—Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos offered hope on Friday that the Chantier Davie shipyard in Lévis, across the St. Lawrence from the provincial capital, would soon be busy working on federal shipbuilding contracts.

Chantier Davie is well-placed to be awarded contracts to build three new federal ferries and is also a contender to win contracts to refit Canada’s 12 naval frigates, noted Duclos, who is also MP for Québec riding, taking in the city’s core.

Morneau has been using a pause this week in Parliament to travel across Canada touting the benefits of the budget he presented March 19.

He was asked after his chamber of commerce speech about specific commitments for the Quebec City region, such as Mayor Régis Labeaume’s proposed tramway and the repainting of the rust-marred Quebec Bridge.

“The money is there for the tramway,” Morneau said.

There is also federal money to repaint the bridge, the finance minister added. But negotiations are continuing with the province.

Asked about a proposal for more rapid, more frequent passenger rail service between Montreal and Quebec City, Morneau said, “We need to have more information.”

Then he added, with a smile, “If we had more Liberals MPs (from the region), that would make it easier.”

Last January, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau left his chamber of commerce audience in Quebec City cold, rejecting appeals to grant Davie a contract to build a new supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy.

“The navy doesn’t need a second supply ship now,” Trudeau said, in reply to representatives of Davie’s union and representatives of nearly 900 companies in Davie’s supply chain.

Chantier Davie, as Canada’s oldest and largest shipyard has been known since a 2012 ownership change, is dependent on the boom-bust cycles of stop-and-go government contracts. In 2011, when the Conservative government was awarding billions of dollars in shipbuilding contracts, Davie, then bankrupt, was excluded, with all future navy and coast guard ships to be built by smaller shipyards, Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax and Seaspan in Vancouver.

In 2015, before the federal election, Davie proposed to the Conservative government of Stephan Harper that it convert a German container ship into a supply ship for the navy. Ottawa was in a jam then after Canada’s two outdated supply ships had been scrapped and the navy was relying on the Spanish and Chilean navy supply ships. Davie delivered the Asterix supply ship on time and on budget in 2017.

Since that time, the company has been calling on Ottawa to order the Obelix, a twin supply ship to the Asterix for the navy.

On Thursday, visiting Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said if he was prime minister, the Obelix would go ahead, winning applause from his chamber of commerce audience. Scheer also endorsed the “third link,” Premier François Legault’s pet project, the plan, which is yet to reach the planning stage, to build a third bridge or tunnel across the St. Lawrence.

Joël Lightbound, who with Duclos makes up the two-MP Liberal caucus in Quebec City, where the Conservatives dominate, deadpanned to reporters, “One more step and Mr. Scheer would have promised world peace and the return of the Nordiques.”

On Friday, it was the turn of the two Liberal ministers.

Asked by a reporter what commitments the Trudeau government was prepared to make for Davie, a major employer in the region, Morneau called Davie “important for our industry in Canada.”

Morneau suggested that if reporters spoke to Davie representatives at the luncheon, “You will see the smiles on their faces.”

Duclos added that Davie was “wrongfully harmed” by being excluded from the Harper government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

“There are things that the previous government did that our government cannot undo,” he added.

In helping Davie, the federal government agreed to its offer to convert three icebreakers, built for cancelled offshore oil-drilling projects, for the Canadian Coast Guard.

“You saw the three icebreakers we acquired a few months ago,” Duclos said. “The first icebreakers the government has acquired in 25 years.”

Frédérik Boisvert, vice-president of Davie and one of the Davie representatives at the chamber of commerce luncheon, said the ferry and frigate refit contracts have not been awarded yet.

But Davie is confident.

“We’re extremely well-positioned,” he said. “You can quote me on that, given that the other two shipyards are at full capacity.”

The Morneau budget called for replacing the MV Madeleine, linking Quebec’s Îles de la Madeleine with Prince Edward Island; the MV Holiday Island, running between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia; and building a new ferry for Marine Atlantic, linking Newfoundland to the continent.

“They have to be built in Canada,” Boisvert said.

“The two other shipyards are at full capacity so, logically, it’s coming to us,” he said.

“Maybe (there will be) an announcement before the end of June.”

On the frigate refits, Davie is hoping to get contracts to refit at least four of the warships.

“Negotiations are underway, and they should be wrapped up soon.”


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