Trudeau government moves heavy-icebreaker job out of Vancouver


The federal government has decided to move construction of Canada’s new heavy icebreaker out of Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards, fuelling speculation construction of Canada’s polar icebreaker will be moved to Quebec’s Davie shipyard.


Public Services and Procurement Canada said construction of a “large, one-off polar icebreaker compounded” challenges at Seaspan, which is building non-combat vessels under the national shipbuilding strategy.

“Therefore, Canada made the decision to substitute the one polar icebreaker with a long run of 16 multipurpose vessels (MPVs),” spokesperson Marc-Andre Charbonneau said in an email to CBC News.

“Given the importance of icebreaking capacity, the government is exploring options to ensure the polar is built in the most efficient manner, but no decisions have been [made] yet.”

Public Services and Procurement Canada said Seaspan will start building the multipurpose coast guard vessels, which will do icebreaking and buoy tending, after the yard completes two Royal Canadian Navy supply ships.

Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards in West Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the decision to build multipurpose coast guard vessels in Vancouver last month.

At the same time, the Liberal government said it was adding a third, “undesignated” shipyard to the national shipbuilding program.

During the announcement, Trudeau suggested the workload at Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards and Irving’s Halifax Shipyard was “an opportunity for Davie to apply to become that third shipbuilding facility.”

Veteran Halifax shipping blogger Mac Mackay has no doubt Davie will be added to the national shipbuilding program and the new heavy icebreaker will be built in the Quebec shipyard.

“There’s only one other shipyard that has any capability at all and that’s the Davie Quebec shipyard,” he said. “It’s certainly a huge shipyard, it’s got all kinds of equipment, it’s got a huge workforce available and that’s the only third shipyard that’s in Canada.”

Decades-old ship being replaced

The polar icebreaker, named the John G. Diefenbaker by the Harper government, is supposed to replace the venerable Louis S. St-Laurent, built in 1963.

CCGS Diefenbaker has no budget. Estimates have ranged from $600 million to $1.3 billion. The Public Works website said the budget is under review.

Seaspan was selected to build the polar icebreaker in 2011 as part of its winning bid for non-combatant construction. That also includes new fisheries vessels and a new oceanographic science ship to replace the oldest vessel in the coast guard fleet, CCGS Hudson.

Seaspan was also selected to build a new oceanographic science ship to replace the oldest vessel in the coast guard fleet, CCGS Hudson. (Shipspotting Canada CCG/Facebook)

Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax was selected to build arctic offshore patrol vessels and warships as part of the program.

Facing bankruptcy at the time, Davie was shut out entirely, but it never gave up.

In 2016, the Canadian Press reported the shipyard submitted an unsolicited bid to the federal government to build the heavy icebreaker.

Mackay said the Liberals rejected that proposal, but “times have changed.”

“Politics is politics and Quebec jobs are critical,” he said. “The Liberals have their main support in Quebec. They can’t win a federal election without winning Quebec and everything they can do to deflect people’s interest from other Quebec stories into something positive will do them good.”