By Claire Trevena, New Democrat ferries critic
Just three years ago, Premier Christy Clark told British Columbians that our provincial shipbuilding industry was on the rise. So much so, she suggested, that we may never have to build another ferry outside our province.
“One of the ways that we are going to make sure that we get the best value for taxpayers in building B.C. Ferries is by building a strong viable shipbuilding industry here in British Columbia that has an economy of scale,” the premier told reporters.
“Once we build that, it’s not just going to be a question of whether or not we’re building B.C. Ferries here. We want to be building ferries for countries all over the world here.”
Less than three years later, Premier Clark and her government seem to have forgotten their big plans for B.C.’s shipbuilders.
B.C. Ferries recently announced that three intermediate class ferries will be built by Remontowa Shipbuilding S.A. in Poland. These three vessels are just a small part of a fleet that is due for major renewal in the coming years.
Instead of creating good, well-paying jobs for British Columbians, this $165-million contract will create jobs in Gdansk.
The loss to the province is significant. A study by the Columbia Institute looked at the economic benefits of the shipbuilding industry and found that for every 100 jobs created in the industry, 135 jobs were created elsewhere.
According to this study, the construction of three ferries would have meant a $378.5 million boost to the provincial economy. In addition, the B.C. Liberals are not just losing tax revenue by exporting the jobs and allowing foreign construction, they are actually giving it away: $51 million is earmarked in these contracts to cover Canadian taxes and import duties.
Today, B.C. Ferries is pinning the blame for this loss on shipbuilding companies, saying all Canadian companies were invited to compete, and a B.C. company, Seaspan, had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts.
However, this is not a simple story of B.C. companies failing to bid or withdrawing their bid. This significant missed opportunity shows that, despite the premier’s ambitious rhetoric, the B.C. Liberals have done nothing to assist the shipbuilding industry to grow in this province.
The B.C. Liberals, for purely political purposes, have let the industry atrophy for the last decade – as a result, our shipbuilders lost capacity. When the government stopped building vessels in this province, shipbuilders were badly hit. Other new ferries were bought or built in Europe and the situation has become so ridiculous that last year, TransLink was forced to go to Singapore for a new SeaBus because there was no capacity in B.C.
Despite this clear problem, the B.C. Liberals have failed even to allow B.C. companies to maximize the capacity they do have. In the past, companies were able to come together and work as a consortium to build ferries; that was precluded in this round.
In May, I introduced the Provincial Shipbuilding Act in the legislature. This legislation allows for the development of a provincial shipbuilding strategy. It would ensure vessels built with public money are built in Canada; it would assist in building a highly skilled strong workforce through apprenticeships. Unfortunately, the B.C. Liberals have blocked this legislation.
In other regions, governments recognize the value of this industry, and work hard to encourage its growth.
In Washington State, for instance, new ferries needed to service their extensive ferry system are built in the state’s shipyards. This initiative is supported across the political spectrum, even though at times it is more expensive, because state leaders recognize that this industry is a source of good jobs for workers and huge wealth for the state.
Here in B.C., our shipbuilding industry supports our provincial economy and creates good jobs in an industry with a bright future.
The premier needs to hold true to her pre-election promise of a bright future for shipbuilding in B.C. She should take action now to protect and develop this industry, before another lucrative B.C. contract creates jobs and opportunities elsewhere.