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Unions call on government to cancel foreign SeaBus contract

The Burrard Otter SeaBus is due for replacement in 2014. - Outlook files
The Burrard Otter SeaBus is due for replacement in 2014.
— image credit: Outlook files

The B.C. Federation of Labour is calling on the federal and provincial governments to cancel a TransLink decision to buy a foreign-built SeaBus, saying the transit provider ignored millions in federal funding assistance that could have given a local builder the edge on winning the contract.

The provincial labour federation last week joined the BC Shipworkers’ Federation in asking the government to block TransLink’s awarding of the new SeaBus contract to the Dutch-based Damen Shipyards Group, whose $25-million bid for the work beat out a $27-million bid from North Vancouver’s Allied Shipbuilders.

Damen is expected to build the new ferry in Singapore, a move that will cost British Columbians more than $25 million in lost jobs and economic spinoffs, the unions claim.

The deal marks the first time in the ferry service’s 36-year history that one of its boats will be built off B.C.’s shores.

Shipworkers’ union president George MacPherson said Thursday that TransLink rejected “out of hand” millions in federal funding which could have made the difference in Allied winning the bid.

But it’s a claim TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel flatly denied.

“That is something we took a look into,” Zabel told The Outlook, noting that 90 per cent of TransLink’s cost for the new SeaBus will already be paid for through the Federal Gas Tax Fund.

That leaves only 10 per cent of the boat’s cost eligible for the federal assistance program, Zabel said.

“It only would have saved us under $5,000,” he added. “The Damen contract saves us $2 million, so it’s still far greater.”

Still, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, Jim Sinclair, called Ottawa’s decision not to insist on a Canadian builder for the new SeaBus “astonishing,” especially in light of the government’s insistence on going local for its $8-billion navy and coast guard ship procurement program last year.

“Why build Canadian for some projects and give the jobs away on others with the same taxpayer dollars?” Sinclair said.

Both MacPherson and Sinclair said it’s not too late for TransLink to do the right thing and reverse the decision on Damen.

But from TransLink’s standpoint, there’s no looking back, Zabel said.

“It’s a legal process.”

tcoyne@northshoreoutlook.com

twitter.com/toddcoyne

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