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“A convincing case for offshore work”? The Times-Colonist arguments are far less than convincing for building new BC Ferries ships in Germany

By George MacPherson
President, BC Shipyard General Workers' Federation

The Victoria Times-Colonist recently editorialized that BC Ferries had made “A convincing case for offshore work” [February 15, 2005] regarding the decision to build three new Super C-Class ferries in Germany instead of BC shipyards.

Unfortunately, many of the facts and figures used to make that case are plain wrong.

First off, the cost of these three new ferries will be $542 million, not the $325 million cited, unless the federal government makes the unlikely decision to allow BC Ferries to import these ships duty-free and other taxes are not included. The Shipyard General Workers' Federation expects the federal government to charge that duty, which is intended to encourage the shipping industry to build ships and create jobs and investment in Canada , not foreign countries.

With the duty included, these three new German ferries will have each cost more, not less, than the much larger Spirit class ferries built in BC in the early 1990s. T he cost per German ship is $180.66 million each, for a total of $542 million, while the BC-built Spirit class ferries cost $147.5 million each.

The editorial says no BC shipyard is “set up for a contract of this size.” Again, this is simply not true but is BC Ferries' spin. The Washington Marine Group, the only BC shipyard to try to bid on this project, gave detailed assurances that it had the capacity, experience and financial ability to build these ships. Why would they have responded to the request for proposal if they could not do the job and risk their reputation world-wide and a sizeable financial penalty?

Most insulting, the editorial says building the ferries in BC “would mean our new vessels would be built by a rookie organization rather than an experienced one.”

Has the Times-Colonist forgotten that every ferry in the BC Ferries' fleet but two were built right here in BC by veteran BC shipyard workers and naval architects?

In an editorial last July you stated that our BC shipbuilding industry has a “long and successful track record.” Indeed it has, and for more than 100 years, building not only ferries, cargo ships, icebreakers and other vessels but also famous ships like the RCMP's St. Roch.

BC boasts a skilled workforce and several companies with decades of shipbuilding experience – sorry, no rookies here.

And we are not, contrary to the editorial, trying to “create a new shipbuilding industry” through BC Ferries' ships. The existing industry is doing well building new ships, servicing the important cruise ship business, and maintaining and refitting a variety of vessels.

But large projects such as the Super C class ferries would have created 2,000 direct and at least 4,000 in direct jobs for two or more years – work that would help our economy, with those workers paying BC taxes and buying BC goods and services instead of it all going to help the German economy.

As to your editorial's assurance that BC shipyards will have a “fair shot” at other work, we are not confident of that at all, given the way BC Ferries excluded Washington Marine Group from making a final bid of the Super C class project on the same basis as the German shipyard Flensburger.

We are currently concerned that a $35 million job to build a replacement ferry for the Bowen Island run may go to a Polish shipyard and after that there are three new North Coast ferries worth half a billion dollars coming up for tender.

If BC shipyards are not treated fairly in this process, even more money will potentially go overseas.

Lastly, the editorial's ridiculous comparison of BC Ferries' ships with cars and airplanes built elsewhere is beyond comprehension. We don't have an auto or major aircraft business here but we do have a strong and capable shipbuilding industry.

BC shipyards can build ferries as well as anyone in the world at competitive prices, while keeping jobs and investment at home, but only if we are allowed to participate in BC Ferries' bidding process fairly.

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