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Long wait almost over for shipyards seeking $35-billion in federal bounty

The Seaspan Queen tugboat undergoes maintenance at Washington Marine Group Shipyards in North Vancouver on Feb. 2, 2011.

DARRYL DYCK/darryl dyck The Globe and Mail

Political Ottawa is on pins and needles Wednesday, awaiting the most anticipated announcement in years – the government's awarding of $35-billion in shipbuilding contracts.

But the it won't come until this afternoon, after markets have closed.

In the last few days, gossipy insiders have been working overtime "burning up the phones and BlackBerrys chasing every tidbit of information," according to one source close to the process. "They have all been getting drunk on their own bathwater."

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The frustrating thing is that no one knows – with the exception of a couple of bureaucrats – which shipyard will get which piece of the action. The Harper government purposely designed the process to avoid any whiff of political influence or regional pork-barrelling. The decision was even kept away from cabinet.

At stake is $25-billion and countless jobs for the next 20 years to build combat vessels; the runner-up gets $8 billion to build ice breakers and a naval supply ship. There will be about $2-billion for smaller vessels, which could go to the losing shipyard or other yards that bid.

There are three shipyards in contention: Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, the Seaspan shipyards in Vancouver and the Davie yard in the Quebec City area. Speculation – and it is only that – is that British Columbia and Nova Scotia will get the larger pieces; Quebec may have to settle with the $2 billion chunk.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, the lead minister on the file, has been very quiet – "as she should be," the insider said.

"She, by nature, is cautious and by the book. So no traffic there. They will want to ensure that this goes smoothly and will have to be ready when the news breaks because someone will not be happy."

The word is that Ms. Ambrose will not find out who the winners are until about an hour before the formal announcement is made. Even then, a bureaucrat is expected to make the announcement as no politician wants to be the one delivering bad news.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly doesn't know who the winners are until they're announced.

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For those interested in further detail, news outlets were full of stories Wednesday morning about the process and possible outcomes:

» Murray Brewster of The Canadian Press writes about the secrecy involved;

» The CBC's Greg Weston sees rough seas ahead for Mr. Harper;

» And John Ivison reports on a last-minute snag in the National Post.

Buy American riles all parties

The least-popular guy on Parliament Hill these days is U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson.

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His speech Tuesday, in which he defended Buy American provisions in President Barack Obama's jobs bill, didn't sit too well with politicians of all stripes.

"I listened and read the ambassador's comments this morning. We're disappointed with them," said Gerald Keddy, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Trade. "Our position has been clear, that we've got a longstanding relationship, it's a very strong relationship with the United States. We will continue to advocate free and open trade."

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale interpreted the ambassador's defence as telling Canada to "shove it."

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was more gentle, describing Mr. Jacobson as "pretty emphatic" in saying that allowing Canada an out from the protectionist provisions is an option.

"I think it's a huge challenge for Canada," Mr. Rae said. "I mean you have Senator McCain making a sarcastic comment about an ugly Canadian bus yesterday, I mean you know, the spirit of protectionism is alive and well in the American Senate and unfortunately in the American administration and I think that makes it all the more troublesome"

Mr. Rae was referring to the mini-controversy over Mr. Obama using a bus partly made in Canada for his tour through the American heartland to sell his jobs plan.

The NDP's Robert Chisholm, meanwhile, accused the Harper government of being asleep at the switch.

"They're in there negotiating on all kinds of issues with respect to border security and others and they knew that the existing exemption was going to expire at the end of September. You know, where were they?"

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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