Ottawa misses its own deadline on deal for icebreakers
The Procurement Department, which is leading the negotiations, says talks with the shipyard located in Levis, Que., are still ongoing.
Ottawa has quietly missed its own deadline for finalizing an agreement with a Quebec shipyard so it can start work on replacing the Canadian Coast Guard’s aging icebreaker fleet.
The government said last summer that pending successful negotiations, it expected an agreement by the end of the year confirming Chantier Davie’s addition to Canada’s multibillion-dollar ship procurement program.
That have would paved the way for Davie to begin building seven new icebreakers that the Coast Guard desperately needs to replace its existing fleet, before mechanical problems start forcing ships into retirement.
Yet the Procurement Department, which is leading the negotiations, says talks with the shipyard located in Levis, Que., are still ongoing.
“Negotiations between the government of Canada and Chantier Davie are ongoing and specific details about the state of the negotiations cannot be provided at this time,” department spokeswoman Stefanie Hamel said in an email.
“The qualification process is expected to be completed in 2023.”
The missed milestone is the latest in a string of delays since Ottawa announced in December 2019 that Davie was the only shipyard to qualify for the icebreaker contracts, which are expected to be worth billions of dollars.
Government officials at the time said they expected a final deal to iron out the details by the end of 2020. They have since revised their target several times, in part to accommodate Davie so the company could provide documents to support its qualifying bid.
Davie spokesman Denis Boucher referred questions to the federal government, but said in an email: “There are no reasons to worry.”
Yet every passing day raises the risk of one of the Coast Guard’s decades-old icebreakers breaking down, hindering maritime traffic and trade in the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes, or research and resupply in Canada’s North.
The government has also spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to extend the life of its fleet, most of which was supposed to have been retired by now.
That includes the 54-year-old CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent heavy icebreaker, which serves as the Coast Guard’s flagship.
During a parliamentary committee meeting last month, in which members of Parliament were told the talks were in their final stages, Coast Guard Commissioner Mario Pelletier said the aim is to start cutting steel in 2025.
“As we get closer to 2025, we’ll be able to assess whether there’s some slippage and come up with some interim measures, such as the ones we have in place right now,” he said. “If we need to look at more interim measures, we will.”
Davie’s path to potentially joining the federal shipbuilding plan has been long and winding.
It was initially excluded from the shipbuilding plan following a 2011 competition that selected Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax to build the navy’s new warships, and Seaspan to build two new naval support ships and the bulk of the coast guard’s new fleet.
The Quebec shipyard was able to pick up piecemeal work, including the construction of two federal ferries and the provision of several second-hand ships for the navy and coast guard.
Davie made no secret of its desire for more and, with help from allies in Quebec City and the opposition benches in Ottawa, the company lobbied the federal Liberal government hard for official inclusion in the shipbuilding plan.
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