Kudos to Harper for shipbuilding methodology

Harvey Oberfeld
By Harvey Oberfeld
October 25th, 2011

It’s as much a tradition as Hockey Night in Canada: awarding federal contracts on the basis of political seats, powerful clout and, in essence, attempts to bribe voters.

I saw that personally while covering Parliament Hill, when Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney overruled all technical assessments and recommendations and evaluations that favored Winnipeg, to instead award the multi-billion maintence contracts for Canada’s new CF-18 fighter planes to Quebec.

And neither the Official Opposition Liberals nor totally Western-propped up NDP raised much of as peep.

I could understand why the Liberals–basically an Eastern Canada party at that time–said little, but I was particularly disgusted with Ed Broadbent and the NDP who, despite my pushing, would not condemn this screwing of the West, probably for fear of alienating Quebec.

As I said, it has been a Canadian tradition. When it comes to really big decisions, the West’s role has been one of “assuming the position” while Quebec and Ontario share the spoils.

Harper has changed that–at least in the case of the shipbuilding contracts.

The decision-making process was done so fairly, I don’t even object to Halifax getting the vast majority of the contracts, $25 Billion compared to $8 Billion for BC.

Because, again, it was done fairly.

All the evaluations, technical assessments and cost calculations were done by top civil servants, overlapping panels of professionals  and third-party independent experts, all supervised by “fairness monitor” who apparently scrupulously ensured all deliberations were carried out fairly.

“Fairly”!  In awarding billions of federal bucks!

And all without any “ministerial input” or cabinet “suggestions”.

In fact, the final decision makers didn’t even know which company (or province) was home to which bid: the comparative analyses were lettered merely “A”, “B” and “C”.

And Harper and the federal cabinet went along with the recommended contract awards without “adjustment” or over-ruling.


Of course, Quebec’s Davie shipyards will get some work, some spending in a support role–and why not? There will be a lot of work to go around and all Canadian companies engaged in the shipbuilding industry should enjoy some of the spoils.

But the fact that the two MAJOR contracts went to Nova Scotia and BC after being judged without political interference, makes Canadian history.

And deserves to be noted and praised.

Of course, the Parti Quebecois will try to make hay over this “slap” to Quebec and will play this card over and over in the next provincial election, due before December 2013.

But that just makes the bravery of Harper and the Tories on this issue more laudable and noteworthy.

Kudos to them.

Harv Oberfeld is a blogger and retired journalist. This column originally appeared in his blog, Keeping It Real.

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