QUEBEC — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced pointed questions in Quebec City on Friday over his government’s refusal to give a second contract to the Davie shipyard for a supply vessel.
Trudeau delivered a campaign-style speech to members of the city’s business community, in which he highlighted the Liberals’ infrastructure investments and small-business tax cuts. However, he was questioned on his government’s decision not to order a second temporary ship to address the navy’s needs and support local workers.
He said he is looking at ways to provide more work for the shipyard, but a second supply ship is simply not needed right now.
“We understand there are preoccupations and concerns regarding the Davie workers, and we are trying to look for new contracts and new ways to support them and deliver equipment that Canada needs,” he said.
“But the (Defence Department) and the Coast Guard, everyone has been very, very clear that we don’t need Obelix and that’s why we aren’t advancing on the Obelix,” he said, referring to the second ship Davie had proposed to the government.
Pierre Drapeau, president of the association of suppliers to the shipyard, told Trudeau that work is urgently needed at Davie. He said less than 3 per cent of the contracts from Ottawa’s national shipbuilding strategy have gone to the shipyard in Levis, which is across the river from Quebec City, and workers are losing their jobs.
The federal government awarded Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding a $700-million contract to convert a civilian container ship into a temporary supply vessel and lease it to the navy for at least five years. Davie has offered to convert and lease another ship for $500 million, but the navy says that’s unnecessary.
On Friday, Trudeau blamed the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper for awarding shipbuilding contracts to Vancouver and Halifax while leaving out Quebec’s capital.
He said he understands the frustration, but Canada can’t be seen as a country that tears up previously signed contracts when a new government is elected.
“That’s why we are looking to find new work and to send more work to Davie — because yes, there are challenges, across the country, in terms of timelines, on the work being done for the shipbuilding strategy,” he said.
“But we need to act within the contracts that were left to us by (former public safety minister) Steven Blaney and the Conservative government from the time of Stephen Harper.”
Simon Maltais, who works for the association of suppliers to the shipyard, said he was disappointed by the prime minister’s statement.
“It is a necessity for Canada to support its troops in the Atlantic, and now we’re being told it’s not,” he said. “That’s a first for us.”
In a recent interview with The Canadian Press, Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd said he was “comfortable” with having only one temporary support ship in the water at this time.