By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report on the government’s shipbuilding plans is here.
The short version is that the government’s estimates might be off by about $1.5 billion.
By Tamsin McMahon - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
Nova Scotia got billions to build warships, but an old immigration scandal has left Halifax with a sinking feeling
Normally the announcement of billions in federal cash flowing into a community would be cause for unbridled optimism. But in Nova Scotia, the $25-billion contract to build combat ships at the Halifax Shipyard has instead raised the spectre of an old immigration scandal and strained relations between the province and Ottawa. Nova Scotia hopes the shipbuilding windfall will help it lure new immigrants to revive its hobbled workforce, while Ottawa no longer seems to trust the province to run its own immigration system.
The dispute stems from the provincial nominee program, a federal program which is designed to let each province pick at least some of its own immigrants. Under this program during the mid-2000s, Nova Scotia required immigrants to fork over $100,000 to local businesses in exchange for management-level “mentorship” training that was supposed to lead to full-time work. Roughly 900 immigrants complied, but many ended up unemployed or working at car dealerships, fish stands and laundromats, with thousands in fees pocketed by local businesses and consultants. Not surprisingly, about two-thirds of those immigrants left the province in search of jobs elsewhere.
Nova Scotia axed that aspect of its immigration program in 2006, and overhauled its rules to focus on attracting skilled workers and graduate students rather than those willing to pay cash for entry. But the changes haven’t swayed the federal government, which has refused to give Nova Scotia more spaces in the provincial nominee program, even as it raises its cap for Western provinces. In Manitoba, the program draws more than 12,000 immigrants every year, but for the past three years Ottawa has limited Nova Scotia’s share to just 500. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has aired his displeasure with how all the Atlantic provinces handled their immigration systems, telling one newspaper last year, “We are not going to continue with the rate of growth in the program over the past few years until we’re able to sit down with the provinces and make sure our concerns are addressed.”
That’s irked officials, who say despite ample demand to immigrate to Nova Scotia, the province is falling short of the numbers needed to take advantage of the shipbuilding contract’s economic spinoffs. “We have a federal government that thinks we have an immigration program which is still stained by the way it was run in the past,” says Liberal MLA Andrew Younger.
The province predicts it may need as many as 10,000 immigrants by 2014, when the federal shipbuilding contract swings into gear, to avoid a labour shortage. Last year just 2,400 immigrants arrived in Nova Scotia, with fewer than one-quarter coming through the provincial nominee program. Without its failed immigration project, the province would likely be much closer to its target of 5,000 a year, says Elizabeth Mills, executive director of the Office of Immigration. “In that time period that we had to deal with this whole issue, we were basically paralyzed,” she says.
That delay, says Younger, could cost Nova Scotia as it tries to attract young workers. Nova Scotia has one of the oldest and most stagnant populations in Canada. The population grew by less than one per cent between 2006 and 2011. “We really need to make sure that the government and the minister understand that the scandal that plagued Nova Scotia immigration is years behind us,” he says. “We’ve moved on.”
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, October 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 14 Comments
Keeping meddling politicians out of the shipbuilding contract decision worked. Is there a lesson here?
The Conservatives are most anxious that everyone should know what an independent and impartial process was used to decide the recent competition for $33 billion in federal shipbuilding work. And by all accounts it was. Ministers were kept far away from the file. The task of assessing the competing bids, from shipyards in B.C., Halifax and Quebec, was left to a team of senior civil servants. A “fairness monitor” vouched for their handiwork, with the help of two outside auditors. And so on.
All of which would be a lot more impressive if a) it had not already been decided at the political level that no foreign shipyards would be allowed to compete, reserving the bidding to a handful of high-priced domestic yards, b) it had not similarly been decided in advance that the work would be divided between two yards, meaning two of the three bidders were guaranteed to win something, and c) one of the three, Quebec’s near-bankrupt Davie Yards, had not been shoehorned into the bidding at the last minute thanks to a political decision to extend the deadline. Indeed, it is hard to escape the impression that all this scrupulousness was based less on principle and more on protecting the government from the inevitable blowback from whichever province lost, naming no Quebecs.
But why quibble? It would be a stretch to say the best bid won, but at least the worst bid lost, which is a lot better than these things usually play out. Indeed, the process was such a success some have been moved to ask: why don’t we do this . . . all the time? If it is a good thing to keep politicians’ thumbs off the scales on a major shipbuilding contract, why is it not also a good thing to get the politics out of procurement generally? Not only would it spare the taxpayer needless expense, but it would spare the country the regional resentments, lobbying wars and suspicions of corruption that go with most such decisions.
By John Geddes - Friday, October 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 5 Comments
Two contracts. Three provinces—each with a history of feeling slighted by the feds.
The situation could hardly be more packed with political danger. The federal government decides to award $33 billion of shipbuilding work to two shipyards, but there are three bidders. They hail from Nova Scotia, Quebec and British Columbia. Which of the three provinces, each with its own tradition of feeling grievously slighted by Ottawa, will be the big loser? Even when the stakes have been lower and the optics less harsh, the history of granting major federal contracts teaches a dismal lesson. “It’s always horrendous,” says André Juneau, director of Queen’s University’s Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, and a former senior federal bureaucrat who worked on many sensitive federal-provincial files.
But this time, improbably, not nearly so horrendous as usual. Last week’s anxiously awaited announcement was great for Halifax, which won the $25-billion deal to build warships, and very good for Vancouver, which scored $8 billion worth of work on coast guard and other non-combat vessels. Inevitably, that left some in Quebec complaining bitterly. The outcry, though, was oddly muted. “That’s competition for you,” said Yves-Thomas Dorval of the Conseil du patronat, Quebec’s main business lobby group. Elaborate measures taken by the federal Conservatives to make sure they couldn’t be plausibly accused of politically manipulating the outcome seemed to have succeeded in insulating them from the typical fallout.
That tactical victory came at a testing moment in federal-provincial relations. Looming questions about how the money is divided up in the federation threaten, as they have so often in Canadian history, to sour Ottawa’s relations with the provinces and heighten tensions between regions. The key issues involve renegotiating transfer-payment deals for health and equalization. Other touchy matters in play are Ottawa’s plans to redistribute seats in the House of Commons and create a national stock market regulator. The shipbuilding procurement is, in many respects, unique. But one lesson that could apply broadly is that taking elaborate steps to show that decisions aren’t tainted by favouritism pays valuable political dividends.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 24, 2011 at 10:36 AM - 4 Comments
Donald Savoie considers the new process that oversaw the latest round of shipbuilding procurement.
The process is not without implications. The anonymous public servant central to the doctrine of ministerial responsibility took a back seat. François Guimont, deputy minister of public works, was front and centre before the cameras not only explaining the process but also declaring who the winners were. Politicians were nowhere to be seen in the $33-billion announcement. Indeed, the first politician to appear on camera was an opposition MP applauding the process and declaring victory. Prime ministers and cabinet ministers of eras past must have given their heads a shake at the sight.
The process also raises a number of fundamental questions. What if we discover down the road that the process or the decision was flawed? Who will be responsible and answerable before Parliament? The minister or the deputy minister?
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 7:00 PM - 26 Comments
The Scene. First, the unquestionably good news.
“Mr. Speaker, today, myself, the NDP shipbuilding critic from Sackville-Eastern Shore, and all New Democrats celebrate with the workers of Nova Scotia and British Columbia,” Nycole Turmel informed the House.
Alas, this is Question Period and so this much would not suffice.
“But for other workers,” Ms. Turmel continued, “yesterday’s announcement came up $2 billion short. Instead of announcing the full $35 billion in contracts, the government picked winners and losers. The Prime Minister left major shipyards like Davie vulnerable. Why?”
The NDP leader’s lament was not well received.
“This is your angle?” begged James Moore from the government frontbench.
“You’re the loser!” cried a voice from the near corner of the Conservative side. Continue…