The Telegram (St. John's)
Missing the boat; Critics blast plan to have DFO vessel designed in Norway
Marine-design experts and political leaders in this province are furious over the federal government's stated preference to award a major contract for vessel design - which they say can be done right here - to a company in Norway.
On Nov. 28, Public Works Canada released an advance contract award notice (ACAN) stating the federal government's conclusion that no Canadian company could meet the design requirements for two science vessels for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
As a result, the document states a plan to simply award the contract outright to Skipsteknisk in Aalesund, Norway.
The worth of the contract is not readily known, but it is estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
Federal fisheries critic Loyola Hearn slammed the plan, calling it the latest example of "government ignorance of Newfoundland and Labrador's capabilities."
"I mean really, what an insult this is to the intelligent people in this province - it's no wonder we've lost so many federal jobs when we see deals like this," Hearn said. "I know there are things we can't do in this country, but where we can do things it absolutely should be done right here.
"If our ministers and bureaucrats don't know we have the ability to do this work in our country, they shouldn't be there in the first place - it's just one more reason I can give for getting rid of this bunch of clowns."
Hearn is not alone in his disgust: two of the province's leading experts with the ocean and naval architectural engineering program at Memorial University used the word "crazy" to describe the vessel design contract situation.
Program chair Claude Daley and past-chair Dag Friis, both of whom have extensive backgrounds in the field, didn't mince words when asked for their thoughts on the federal plan.
"It's absolutely ridiculous and shocking they would have put in the wording they did about the lack of ability of Canadian naval architects," Daley said. "There was obviously some feature they had seen in some boat, and they wanted it and thought they could make this go by saying it is unique - and to make a case for uniqueness they had to say we couldn't do it in this country."
"I think it's criminal. I think it's the ignorance of bureaucrats in Ottawa ... that's the only thing I can say," said Friis, adding there are a firms with varying degrees of capability in Canada, including one right in the heart of Ottawa.
"We have the expertise in this country and there are a number of groups around the country more than capable of doing a high-quality design. There's nothing wrong with the consultant in Norway, they are a competent bunch - but we've got competent people here, too.
"We would have no trouble pulling a team together right here."
Public Works spokesman Pierre Teotonio told The Telegram the federal government had determined no Canadian firm was capable of delivering on the design contract following extensive consultations, held by Public Works and DFO across the country this past summer, and a major naval architectural conference held in April.
"Based on all the information obtained from these information sessions, the conference and so on, in this case the government believes there is only one source for this requirement, and that is mentioned in the ACAN," Teotonio said.
Under the rules of an ACAN, companies believing they can meet the requirements of a contract have at least 15 days to submit statements of capability outlining how they could fulfil the requirements of a contract; if that doesn't happen, the contract automatically goes to the company identified in the ACAN.
In this case, Teotonio said, companies have, in fact, submitted such statements, but he would not reveal the companies' names, where they were located or whether it would affect the initial federal desire to have the work done by Skipsteknisk.
"No final decision has yet been made about proceeding with the contract award or going to full tendering process," he said. "We are reviewing the statements of capabilities we received as a result of this ACAN."
Having the contract go to Norway, Daley warns, would set a bad precedent for Canadian companies bidding on design contracts worldwide - after all, if Canada doesn't trust its own designers, he said, why would any other nation?
"I know people in other countries, in Scandinavia in particular, and the next time they are bidding on a contract against a Canadian firm, they are going to say, 'Hey, you don't want to go with those Canadian guys - don't you know their own government doesn't think they know how to design a boat?' They will use our government's decision against us in international bids."
He also said there could be more hidden costs in bringing the vessels up to Canadian regulations, which are not the same as those in Norway.
"They would need to redesign the thing and they would need Canadian expertise to do it by law - it's just crazy," Daley said. "They can't just buy this boat with these features like they're buying a Toyota."
Hearn charges this issue, like many other problems, starts at the top of federal government departments with ministers and senior officials who "haven't got one good clue what is going on in the department."
Meanwhile, the contract does state the federal government's preference to have the ships built in Canada, and Teotonio said contracts for design and construction were completely independent of each other.
"The two requirements are unrelated - the boats can still be built in Canada, the ships must comply with Canadian ship-building policy," he said. "It is the Crown's intention to have the two vessels built in Canada as was stated in the ACAN."
"We had five Liberal members in caucus who are seeing these things happening and are either not caring, or the ministers are not telling them the moves they are making to affect their province without consultation. There was no effort here to make sure we got the best deal possible and to make sure the jobs stay in Canada."
Hearn said the vessel design issue could have been solved with some simple communication between ministers and MPs in this province and other areas of Atlantic Canada.
"The only question they had to ask was, 'Is there anything available in your province or in your riding? Is there a firm in your province that can handle this?' " Hearn said. "All the boys had to do was make a couple of phone calls, come back and, using the typical Newfoundland expression, say, 'Yes b'y.' "
"Our members on the government side, who are rubbing shoulders with various ministers every single day, should be saying to them, 'Because of the jobs situation in my province, any work that is proceeding in this country I need to know about them.' It's not rocket science - that's the way we've always operated."