14 November 2013

One step closer to reality four years later #nlpoli

The provincial government announced plans to build two new ferries on Wednesday.  The first one will cost $51 million.

The new ferry will replace the Captain Earl W. Winsor, a vessel that’s been in service for more than 40 years.  Currently it is on the Fogo Island-Change Islands run.

There are a few interesting things about this particular ship and the announcement.

First of all, note the huge time delay.  It’s consistent with the chronic problems the Conservatives have had since 2003 in getting any capital works projects done on time let alone even near the original budget.

The provincial government awarded the contract to design this vessel in August, 2009.  It’s taken four years, in other words, to get this vessel from the design stage to the point where someone is going to start welding steel.

The original release on the design contract – issued in May 2009 – started out with the line that a “replacement ferry for the MV Captain Earl W. Winsor is closer to reality.”

The Conservatives have had chronic problems delivering on their commitment to build 10 ferries in the province.  So far they have actually built two. 

That four year delay is actually pretty much what Tom Hedderson said in 2011 when CBC reported that the vessel would likely be built outside the province.  At that time, they expected to have the ship in service by 2015 or 2016, or about seven years after announcing the design contract.

Second, note the split announcement.  For polling month, the provincial government actually made two announcements in one to maximise the publicity.

There’s money for a new ferry for Fogo.

Won’t they need to improve the wharf in Fogo?  Apparently not.  Instead, they announced  $10 million for wharf improvements on the Bell Island run to handle another ship that isn’t even built yet.  That one is coming at some undefined point in the future.

That brings us to the third curious thing about this release:  Bell Island is home to the Conservative politician who got himself into a lot of hot water recently for his half-hearted apology to the House of Assembly.  The coverage was very embarrassing.  It looks like they added David Brazil in this release to give him a political boost.

Fourth, note that there is no mention in the release to the contractor having any plans to do anything in Newfoundland and Labrador.  That’s curious because in the House of Assembly, transportation minister Nick McGrath claimed that in the negotiations, “what we have done now is we have secured a new company that wants to come into Atlantic Canada, specifically Newfoundland and Labrador, to open an industry and to build new industry in…”.  he got cut off by the Speaker.

Now if that is true, both the provincial government and the company would surely want to make that the big deal it would be.  After all, the ferry program is in trouble partly because of disputes between the provincial government and Peter Kiewit.  A new company that would operate a ship building industry in the province fits with what the Conservatives promised in 2003.

But that’s not what the company representative said at the formal part of the news conference on Wednesday.  That sounded more like the company wanted to build more vessels for Canadian customers, not build them in Canada.

Why all the hype?