Massive government shipbuilding contracts worth an estimated $33 billion will be awarded Wednesday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay says.
The long-awaited decision is expected to generate controversy because Canada has three major shipyards bidding — in Vancouver, Halifax and Levis, Que. — but only two major contracts will be awarded. There will be one contract to build approximately $25 billion worth of naval warships, and another to construct approximately $8 billion worth of supply vessels and other non-combat craft.
Contracts to be awarded in the future will bring the total to $35 billion.
"Obviously this is a huge decision," MacKay said. "It's a $35-billion investment by the federal government, but the process, as you know, has been set up in a very transparent, inclusive, merit-based way. We have a fairness monitor, we have a secretariat that is arms-length from government, so these decisions [Wednesday] will be made in a way that Canadians can be sure was based on the merit and not on political intervention."
The Canadian government is buying more than 30 new ships for the navy and the coast guard, including frigates, supply ships, patrol boats and icebreakers. They will cover Canada's needs for the next three decades.
The Halifax Shipyard, owned by Irving Shipbuilding, is one of three contenders for lucrative federal shipbuilding contracts to be announced Wednesday.Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
Two shipyards could be picked for the work from among the three bidders: Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Seaspan Marine in Vancouver, and the Davie Shipyard in Lévis, Que.
A shipyard cannot win both projects. The shipyard that walks away empty-handed Wednesday will still be eligible to bid on further contracts worth $2 billion in total to build smaller ships. The two successful shipyards will not be eligible.
Seaspan sent out a news release Tuesday saying the announcement was coming. While the release did not say whether Vancouver had won either contract, it said there would be photo-ops afterward with CEO Jonathan Whitworth and John Shaw, the vice-president of program management.
Halifax Harbour and the new RCAF
Conservatives pledge politics-free decision
The Conservative government has gone out of its way to pledge that politics would not be part of the process.
The deadline for proposals was extended by two weeks to July 21, which allowed the Davie bid (which is for the $8-billion contract only) to be submitted hours before the deadline.
The final selection was handled by a special group of senior bureaucrats who have been managing the bid process for the past 16 months. The full federal cabinet had no role in approving or otherwise reviewing the winning bids, the CBC's Greg Weston reported earlier this week.
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose issued a stern warning to lobbyists in June that the decision would be in the hands of bureaucrats and be made based on strict criteria, in an effort to keep political considerations at bay.
Nevertheless, the premiers of Nova Scotia and British Columbia mounted aggressive campaigns in support of their respective bids.
The government had said that the selection process would be complete by early September but the three sites were still waiting for the official announcement as of Tuesday.