Carla Qualtrough's admission appeared to signal opening in the federal government's attitude on the matter
HALIFAX—Canada’s federal procurement minister isn’t ruling out the possibility of asking Irving Shipbuilding to build more Arctic patrol vessels to address a looming gap in the construction of two new fleets of naval vessels in Halifax.
Following a steel cutting ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on the third patrol vessel, Carla Qualtrough was asked whether a gap could see a request for additional patrol vessels.
“It very much could,” said Qualtrough. “We are in the process of revisiting the timelines and making sure that everything is on track. It most definitely could, but we will have to see how long the gap will be and the cost implications.”
The admission by Qualtrough appeared to signal a slight opening in the federal government’s attitude on the matter. Irving has previously lobbied for additional work between the two naval fleets, but those appeals appeared to have gone nowhere.
“We are working closely together to see what we can do to keep everybody going,” Qualtrough said.
Irving is to build five to six Arctic patrol vessels at a cost of $3.5-billion under Ottawa’s national shipbuilding strategy and 15 ships to replace the navy’s 12 frigates and three recently retired destroyers at an estimated cost of $60 billion.
Company president Kevin McCoy said Irving intends to deliver six Arctic patrol vessels by 2022 as originally planned.
But McCoy wouldn’t address whether the patrol vessel project would require more money to complete. He said under the contract the company isn’t required to deliver a “definitive answer on that” until seven months after the delivery of the first ship.
The company has already committed $1.9 billion in spending on the patrol ship project.
“Naturally on the first ship we’ve got startup issues that we are working through and as we deliver the first ship we will be in a better position,” he said.
McCoy said the first patrol vessel, HMCS Harry DeWolf, is structurally assembled and is due to be launched in 2018. The connecting of the bow section with the vessel’s centre and stern sections was announced earlier this month.
McCoy was asked whether there have been any revisions to the delivery timelines for the vessels.
“There’s a million metres of electrical cable on that ship (HMCS DeWolf) and we are pulling that cable now. This spring we’ll start to light off the electrical systems and get into testing, so as we get through that on the first ship we will step back and reassess.”
McCoy said construction on the second vessel is underway with 28 of the ship’s 64 units in production.
Looming over the production are labour issues at the Halifax Shipyard.
About 800 unionized employees represented by Unifor, including metal fabricators and electricians, recently voted in favour of strike action when their current contract expires at the end of this month.
Contract talks began in early November and Irving requested a conciliator soon after they started.
McCoy downplayed any potential trouble for the project.
“The company and the union have posted officially this week that we are very hopeful after these weeks of discussions,” he said. “We are very hopeful that when we come back after the new year that we’ll reach an agreement that’s fair for both parties.”
Qualtrough said the federal government is watching the labour situation.
“We are confident that they will be able to find a solution that works for everyone,” she said.