OTTAWA – Procurement Minister Judy Foote has rejected a set of unsolicited bids from Davie Shipyard to build or re-purpose a fleet of icebreakers and support ships for the Canadian Coast Guard.
A draft statement from the department dated Friday, which was not released publicly but a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, acknowledged receipt of the proposals, worth a combined total of roughly $1.7 billion. However it said the federal government has “opted not to respond.”
It also said the new Liberal government is fully committed to the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which sees Vancouver-based Seaspan shipyards and Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax as the go-to yards for federal contracts.
The draft statement is the clearest response from the department since The Canadian Press first reported earlier this week that the bids, which claim up to $1.5 billion in economic spin-offs, had gone to Foote’s office.
The government issued a brief statement late Friday saying it does not comment on or respond to unsolicited proposals.
Up until this point, the government would only say that it had not issued a request for proposals and that it remained behind the shipbuilding program, which has been under increased scrutiny.
The absence of a firm public rejection — or acceptance — has only stoked the fires of uncertainty among the defence industry and the affected provinces.
The bids by Levis, Que.-based Davie had the potential to undermine Seaspan, which is gearing up to build many of the vessels offered in the unsolicited bids.
Earlier in the week, Alex Vicefield, CEO of Davie’s parent company, said the pitches had been “very well received,” but would not go into detail.
The company claimed it could deliver the icebreakers — for purchase or lease — at a fraction of the cost and years ahead of the ships Seaspan is planning to build.
The Davie proposals were kicked into the political realm when B.C.’s job minister, Shirley Bond, was quoted by CKNW Radio as saying it’s an unacceptable situation. She called on the Liberal government to live up to its promises. In a tweet Friday, Premier Christy Clark praised the federal move to stay the course calling it “a strong decision by the federal government to stand up for Seaspan and BC.”
The remarks came one day after Nova Scotia’s premier demanded Ottawa ensure its multibillion-dollar shipbuilding commitments to his province were honoured.
Irving Shipbuilding, which was not directly affected by the unsolicited bids, said in a statement that the federal government selected two yards in an open competition and a lot of money has been invested preparing for the construction.
“What Davie is now proposing on an unsolicited, sole-sourced basis is fundamentally inconsistent with the open, fair and robust competition which they lost,” said Irving President Kevin McCoy.
“It is important to consider that the successful yards have invested over a half a billion dollars to efficiently build ships on both coasts.”
Vicefield said earlier this week that his company’s proposals were made outside of the shipbuilding program in order to address an urgent need, in tight fiscal circumstances.
Nothing in the Davie proposal precludes the federal government from buying the already planned ships.
“We are not offering a stopgap, we are offering a fast-track supplementary and permanent solution for a fraction of the cost,” he said.
“Our proposal is, in many respects, the competing bid. We are certainly a proponent of competition — that is something the previous government took out of the domestic shipbuilding industry and was very much instrumental in some of the exorbitant ship costs we are hearing about today.”
Davie used a similar approach to the federal government when it pitched — and won — a multimillion-dollar contract to provide the navy with a supply ship on a temporary basis.
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