TransLink’s decision to build a new $25-million SeaBus with a Dutch shipbuilding company, at the same time as British Columbia is attempting to ramp up the capacity of its own shipbuilding industry for a major federal contract, has rankled provincial labour leaders.
TransLink, on Wednesday, said it received three bids on the proposal to build a replacement for the 36-year-old MV Beaver SeaBus and the Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards Group submitted a bid that was $2 million less than North Vancouver’s Allied Shipbuilders Ltd. A third bidder was disqualified from the process.
“The other (factor) is that (Damen) has a lot of experience building similar kinds of vessels, considerably more than the other bidder,” said Bob Paddon, TransLink’s executive vice-president for strategic planning and public affairs.
However, local labour leaders noted that all three previous SeaBus vessels were built in B.C. – the last, the MV Burrard Pacific Breeze at Victoria Shipyard in 2009. And as a publicly funded organization, TransLink should have used the contract to support the local shipbuilding industry.
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“Local shipyards and local workers have the expertise to deliver this project,” George MacPherson president of the B.C. Shipyard Workers Federation said in a news release.
Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, added that TransLink should have granted the work to the local bidder even if it was more expensive because the spinoff benefits to local industry would outweigh a modest price differential.
Sinclair said the $25-million contract could generate $75 million in indirect spinoffs.
“That the (provincial) government would spend money and time lobbying the federal government to build ships in British Columbia, and then have its own agency turn around and send ships offshore to be built, the irony there is not lost on British Columbians,” he added, and called on Premier Christy Clark to push for a change to TransLink’s decision.
However, Paddon said TransLink didn’t get as many local bids as it hoped for as other potential bidders said they were too busy with the federal contract, which was awarded to Vancouver’s Seaspan in 2011.
And while Damen will do most of the construction work at its Singapore shipyard, most of the design work for a new SeaBus would be done in B.C. and the company has committed to do as much work locally as it can.
“I think we’re getting really good value for taxpayers,” Paddon said.
“Two million dollars can buy you four buses, if that’s where you want to put the money, or into service,” Paddon said.