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Davie, rivals square off over future of multibillion-dollar shipbuilding plan

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  • OTTAWA — The president of Davie Shipbuilding says he is confident the Quebec-based shipyard will be tapped to build two new ferries included in this week’s federal budget.

    But James Davies says it is time the federal government stop rewarding other shipyards for failing to deliver new vessels to the navy and coast guard, and officially admit his company into the multibillion-dollar national shipbuilding plan.

    The comment came late Wednesday as top officials from Davie and its two bitter rivals, Vancouver-based Seaspan Shipyards and Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, appeared one after the other before the Senate finance committee.

    Seaspan and Irving were selected through the shipbuilding strategy in 2011 as the two shipyards responsible for building what at the time was estimated to be $35 billion worth of new vessels for the navy and coast guard.

    Davie also competed but was passed over and has since been forced to fight for scraps outside the plan.

    That includes the provision of an interim resupply vessel for the navy and three second-hand icebreakers for the coast guard.

    Davies also told the committee he did not think any other shipyard could provide the two new ferries included in the budget. They will replace two existing ferries, one of which operates between Quebec and Prince Edward Island and the other between Nova Scotia and P.E.I. The budget does not provide any further details, including cost or when they will be built.

    Despite his sunny view of his company’s capability, Davies was clearly focused on getting his shipyard admitted into the national shipbuilding plan. He noted that, seven years after it was launched, both Seaspan and Irving are continuing to get work despite not having delivered a ship, and the plan’s overall costs have doubled.

    “A deal with no consequence of failure is toothless,” Davies said. “Consequence means that in the light of such failure, the government needs the ability to choose an alternative supplier for future contracts.”

    That includes potentially breaking up the work that, under the current arrangement, is almost entirely the purview of the other two yards, he said, and contracts not yet awarded.

    Davies specifically mentioned 10 large coast guard vessels that were promised to Seaspan in 2013 at an estimated cost of $3.3 billion, but construction of which won’t realistically start until sometime in the mid- to late-2020s.

    During his own appearance, Irving Shipbuilding president Kevin McCoy defended his shipyard’s work to date, telling the committee that the first of 21 vessels Irving has been tasked to build, an Arctic patrol ship for the navy, will be delivered this summer.

    Progress is also being made on five others, McCoy said, as well as the navy’s new, $60-billion warship fleet, which will be built in the coming decade.

    The original cost of those warships was estimated at $26.2 billion, while the first Arctic ship was initially expected in 2015, but McCoy nonetheless said there has been a lot of false information and rhetoric about the state of the plan — and of Irving.

    Seaspan chief executive officer Mark Lamarre similarly said a short time later that work is advancing on the West Coast as three fisheries science vessels for the coast guard are near completion after several delays, some of which were caused by faulty welding.

    Steel has also started to be cut on the first of two long-overdue resupply vessels for the navy, he said.

    Lamarre admitted Seaspan has faced challenges, but he said difficulties were inevitable given that it had been a generation since the government and shipbuilding industry launched such a massive project.

    Both sides have learned some hard lessons over the years that are now being applied, he added.

    While they didn’t mention Davie, the Seaspan and Irving officials also both pushed back against any suggestions of opening up or otherwise changing the national shipbuilding strategy, saying a fair competition was held in 2011.

    James Irving, co-chief executive officer of J.D. Irving Ltd., which owns the Halifax yard, said his company invested $450 million of its own money with the “good faith” understanding the strategy would not be changed.

    — Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Flood waters take woman’s life in western Quebec after river sweeps away road

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  • MONTREAL — A woman in her 70s has died after driving her car into a massive sinkhole caused by flooding in western Quebec, police say.

    The accident left her sedan upside down in a swollen stream after rising river levels swept away part of the road in the Outaouais region overnight.

    Sgt. Martin Fournel of the MRC des Collines police said witnesses parked near the washout tried unsuccessfully to warn the driver as she approached.

    “That lady, who was driving by herself on that road, fell into a sinkhole basically because of the flooding. There was a culvert that was not there anymore, so the road was cut in half and she was not able to brake and avoid the accident,” Fournel told The Canadian Press.

    The woman was taken to hospital but pronounced dead soon after, he said.

    The accident occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

    Pontiac, which sits along the Ottawa River, is one of at least three municipalities in the Outaouais region to declare states of emergency, along with Saint-Andre-Avellin and Val-des-Monts. Trois-Rivieres is also in a state of emergency.

    On Friday, both the Quebec and New Brunswick governments called for federal assistance — including Canadian Forces soldiers on the ground — as the provinces brace for heavy spring flooding this weekend.

    Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told a news conference in Quebec City that the risk level hasn’t changed in recent days, but authorities now expect the brunt of flooding will begin on Sunday and last longer than expected.

    While the situation could change depending on the weather, Guilbault said she elected to ask for assistance as citizens scrambled to protect their homes while heavy rain warnings were in effect for much of southern Quebec.

    About 40 millimetres of rain fell on the Montreal area since Thursday, with five to 10 millimetres more expected Saturday, according to Environment Canada. Rainfall warnings have been lifted, but water levels were already high and were expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures and snowmelt runoff.

    “My only priority is the safety of citizens,” Guilbault said, shortly after the request for help was accepted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

    “I will spare no effort over the next few days to ensure the safety of citizens.”

    Officials in several communities are worried the flooding could be even worse than the record flooding of 2017 that forced thousands from their homes.

    Guilbault said Canadian Forces brass were discussing with provincial officials where to deploy military resources. She added she’d spoken directly with Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan and added the duration of their stay will depend largely on the situation on the ground.

    Across Quebec, municipalities have been preparing sandbags and reinforcing homes as flood waters continue to rise.

    “Today is an important day, we’re predicting we’ll reach the water levels reached in 2017 in the next 24 hours and even exceed it,” said Ginette Bellemare, the acting mayor of Trois-Rivieres, Que., about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

    “For our citizens, it’s a race against time. They must mobilize and protect their property.”

    Guilbault said the province will also allow stores — usually closed on Easter Sunday — to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.

    Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province’s public safety department, said residents should be ready for a sharp spike in water levels that could come quickly, and he implored them to follow the instructions of local officials.

    Blanchet said while there are no official evacuation orders in the province, some municipalities have issued preventative orders, such as Rigaud and Pointe-Fortune in southwestern Quebec.

    Rigaud officials reported they expect a rapid rise in water flows on Saturday.

    “The latest data confirms that water levels as high as those observed at the height of the May 2017 flood could be reached, depending on the amount of rain received, by next Monday,” the town said in a release.

    In Laval, just north of Montreal, officials said some 1,500 homes and businesses were under flood watch. In Montreal, Mayor Valerie Plante toured various parts of the city under flood watch.

    Plante said the boroughs were well prepared, having learned lessons from record floods two years ago.

    “We’re putting all our energy, but in the end Mother Nature decides,” Plante said.

    In Saint-Raymond, about 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, 24 seniors in three residences have been moved to higher ground as the Ste-Anne River levels continue to rise.

    Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City. Officials there called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded. At least 28 people remained unable to return home on Friday.

    Meantime, Quebec City and the Gaspe Peninsula can expect up to 30 millimetres of rainfall this weekend, said Environment Canada meteorologist Andre Cantin.

    “That will help the snow to melt again and we do not expect the river will be able to go down until at least 48 hours,” he said Saturday morning.

    The Canadian Press



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    National

    PEI Green party candidate Josh Underhay and son killed in canoeing accident

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  • CHARLOTTETOWN — With only a few days before voters were to go to the polls in Prince Edward Island, the Green party suspended all campaigning Saturday after the sudden death of one of its candidates and his young son.

    The party confirmed Saturday that Josh Underhay and his son died in a canoeing accident on Friday afternoon.

    Voting day is Tuesday.

    Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, whose party has been leading in the polls, issued a statement saying he was bereft when he learned of Underhay’s death.

    “Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green party supporter,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party … Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.”

    Bevan-Baker said the Greens would suspend all election-related activities for the remainder of the campaign.

    The province’s three other major parties suspended all campaign events scheduled for Saturday.

    The RCMP issued a statement saying two canoeists were reported missing Friday after they failed to show up at an agreed pick-up point along the Hillsborough River, which cuts through the middle of the Island and empties into the Northumberland Strait near Charlottetown.

    Firefighters, police and a volunteer ground search team were called in to look for the pair.

    Police would not identify the victims, but a Green party official confirmed Underhay and his son were later found in the water near their capsized canoe.

    Though they were wearing flotation devices, both were declared dead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, police said.

    Police asked for the public’s help as they continued their investigation, saying they’d like to hear from anyone who saw a red canoe on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.

    Underhay, a married father of two boys, had been the Greens’ candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

    According to a profile on the party’s website, he was a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, as well as an experienced musician and a student of languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Czech.

    “I simply cannot imagine how much (Underhay) will be missed,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and I know we will all join together to provide each other with support and comfort during this terrible time.”

    Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King issued a statement saying the tragic loss of Underhay and his son marked “a heart-breaking day for all Islanders.”

    “It is a reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted,” King said. “Josh was a dedicated teacher and community leader who had a love for life and a passion for people. He was an advocate, talented musician and friend to many.”

    The Green party has been leading in opinion polls since August, but the race remains too close to call when the margin of error in recent surveys is factored in.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on Tuesday, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    The close numbers have also raised the possibility of a minority government, which would mark a historic moment for the Island. The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    The Conservatives have been plagued by infighting for the past eight years, churning through no fewer than six leaders, including King, who was elected in February.

    However, the party enjoyed a boost in the polls the following month, leaving them in a virtual tie with the Liberals.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

    The Canadian Press


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