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Union condemns SeaBus contract

$25-M replacement for Burrard Beaver to be built in Netherlands

LOCAL labour organizations are calling for the province to intervene after TransLink awarded a new SeaBus building contract to an offshore company.

TransLink announced Dec. 17 that it would pay $25 million to Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Group to replace the 36year-old MV Burrard Beaver, which must be phased out due to changes in Transport Canada's environmental regulations.

But the Canadian Auto Workers say the contract should have gone to North Vancouver's Allied Shipyards, whose bid was just $2 million higher.

"Going offshore, to us, makes absolutely no sense. We should be promoting made-in-Canada products," said Joe Elworthy, Canadian Auto Workers Local 2200 president. "It's just obscene the government would make such a move."

Elworthy rubbished the notion that North Shore commuters and B.C. taxpayers will be better served by having the ship built at Damen's Singapore shipyard.

"The government should be intervening here. They should be intervening on TransLink hard," he said. The premier, Christy Clark, should get involved in this issue. It's in her interests to reverse that decision and have this ferry built by Canadians right here in British Columbia where we have the skills, where we have ability and I'm sure, if we do the costing right, we can remain competitive."

The biggest problem with the bidding process was that it did not include any consideration for the spinoff benefits that could be created with the awarding of the contract, said Elworthy. Had local jobs and spending been given any weight, it likely would have tipped the scales in Allied's favour, he said.

Elworthy now wonders why this bid didn't get the same federal and provincial support the recent shipbuilding contracts for Royal Canadian Navy did. One of those contracts went to North Vancouver's Seaspan.

"They had no problem when it came to the military contracts, making bravado statements about how much we're doing here. But when it came to the SeaBus, they were quick to put it offshore. We're baffled by such a move," he said.

The bidding process was fair and had the public interest at heart, according to Bob Paddon, TransLink's executive vice-president of strategic planning and public affairs.

Of the three bids that came in, only two were acceptable and Damen made a better offer than Allied.

"After having a look at both of them, the lowest bid by six per cent was, Damen Group. Looking at their skills and qualifications, they've very experienced," Paddon said, noting that they produce 150 vessels a year, including many similar to the new SeaBus.

Because TransLink must source highly specialized equipment and materials, it can't limit itself to the Canadian market, and price is a very important factor, said Paddon.

"We are not a government. We are not a municipality. We have a very specific mandate at TransLink to take our precious tax dollars and the money we receive from fares and spend it wisely on our system," he said. "That's $2 million more we can spend on our system or (use to) acquire more infrastructure."

It's worth noting that a "significant amount" of the work in Allied's bid would be subcontracted to a shipyard in Washington state, Paddon said.

The decision is making for pre-election fodder as well, drawing quick condemnation from NDP candidate and City of North Vancouver Coun. Craig Keating, who used the occasion to cast aspersion on the B.C. Liberals' jobs plan.

"Here was an opportunity to capture big economic spinoffs for our local economy," Keating said in a press release. "Apart from the benefits to local contractors that would be had by building these vessels here, we will lose the impacts of wages being spent in our community."

The NDP is also alleging the cost of the new SeaBus will come in even higher, thanks to import duties, though Paddon said the costs take into account $3 million in extra tax.

Naomi Yamamoto, Liberal MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, did not respond to a request for comment.

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