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THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S decision to add a third shipyard to the nation's shipbuilding program and shift construction of the Polar-class icebreaker to that facility is a major shift in policy.

Seaspan was originally named to build the icebreaker--the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker--for the Canadian Coast Guard but the start date for construction of that vessel has been continually delayed.

But in the latest development, Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson's office announced that Seaspan will no longer build the icebreaker. Instead it will build 16 new multipurpose vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard.

No decision has been made on who will construct the Polar-class icebreaker.

But the decision to remove construction of the icebreaker from Seaspan comes shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will select a third shipyard to also build federal vessels. That shipyard would be in addition to Irving and Seaspan who are constructing vessels for the federal fleet.

Chantier Davie, the largest yard in the country, has stated it will pursue that third shipyard designation, prompting suggestions that it is a strong contender.

The government has stated it will move forward with a competitive process to select the third shipyard in the coming months. But Trudeau also hinted that Davie could become that third shipyard. "We recognize that it's an opportunity for Davie to apply to become that third shipbuilding facility because there will be a tremendous amount of work in the coming years for workers in our shipbuilding industry right across the country from coast, to coast, to coast," Trudeau said at a news conference in May.

Davie spokesman Frederik Boisvert also noted that the yard is the only one in Canada that has the capacity and ability to deliver the new icebreaker.

That Polar-class icebreaker would replace the aging CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, which is currently at Davie in drydock as the firm works on a life extension for the vessel.

Seaspan is still trying to determine various details with the federal government on both the multipurpose vessels and the situation with the Polar-class icebreaker. The government has stated that the 16 Multi-Purpose Vessels will support a variety of missions, including light icebreaking, environmental response, and offshore search and rescue. It will also proceed through a competitive process with the design of the new class.

"We are in the process of seeking clarification from the Government of Canada regarding any decisions that have been made to alter the scope of Seaspan's work under the NSS (National Shipbuilding Strategy)," Seaspan communications advisor James Mitchell told Esprit de Corps.

Davie has been lobbying the federal government for years to be let into the national shipbuilding plan. It has already received work to provide interim icebreakers.

On December 14, 2018, the Canadian Coast Guard accepted the first of three interim icebreakers being converted by Chantier Davie as part of a $610-million contract awarded in August 2018. The three icebreakers were acquired to supplement the Coast Guard's existing fleet during vessel life extension and repair periods, providing continuous on-water capability during scheduled maintenance periods, the government has noted.

The Liberal government's decision to change the National Shipbuilding Strategy to include a third yard--presumably Davie--comes as a federal election looms. A third yard to build the Polar-class icebreaker would not only provide the Canadian Coast Guard with such a vessel on a much faster basis but could also earn the Liberals votes in Quebec.

If the Conservatives form the next government will they follow through with the plan for a third shipyard? The Conservatives have indeed voiced concern about the delays related to the Polar-class icebreaker. In fact, Conservative MP Todd Doherty, has warned that the icebreaker wouldn't be delivered until 2030.

A Conservative government could be hard pressed to jettison the plan for a third shipyard to build the Polar-class icebreaker.

David Pugliese is Canada's top defence journalist. If you would like to be included in Industry Watch write to

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Caption: ABOVE RIGHT: An artist's concept of the Polar-class icebreaker, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. (IMAGE COURTESY CANADIAN COAST GUARDA/VARD MARINE)

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Author:Pugliese, David
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2019
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