OTTAWA — New Democrats opened fire on the Harper government’s multibillion-dollar shipbuilding plan Thursday, but the attack exposed divisions within the party that the Conservatives were happy to exploit.
Interim Opposition leader Nycole Turmel accused the government of “picking winners and losers” by awarding $33 billion in contracts to shipyards on the East and West coasts, leaving Quebec’s financially-troubled Davie Shipyard out in the cold.
Under the multi-decade plan, announced Wednesday after months of consultation, Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax was awarded the right to exclusively bid on $25 billion in naval warship contracts. Seaspan Marine of North Vancouver was similarly given the strategic partnership for about $8 billion in civilian ship contracts.
An additional $2 billion in small-vessel construction has yet to awarded and Turmel says that was unfair to Quebec and leaves the province vulnerable.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed out New Democrat MPs, such as Nova Scotia’s Peter Stoffer, are in favour of the plan and he urged the Opposition to be more coherent.
“The NDP members are contradicting themselves,” Harper told the Commons. “The NDP has got get together and work out their policy on the other side.”
Stoffer later brushed aside the division, saying that Turmel was fighting for the interests of her Quebec constituents as anyone would expect. But he then bulldozed the central portion of his leader’s argument.
Aside from the remaining federal contracts, Stoffer said there is untold billions of dollars in commercial shipbuilding work out there, including the replacement of Great Lakes freighters.