Prime Time Crime



(Published in the Abbotsford News week of July 26, 2004)


Lets Get The Best Deal For New Ferries


John Pifer


To hear the NDP and heir union brothers and sisters tell it, the concept of having new ferries made anywhere but in British Columbia is heresy at least, maybe even treason of some sort.


Their argument against B.C. Ferries looking to European dockyards to build new ships to replace the worn-out, outdated hulks that have plied the waters of Georgia Strait for 30 years or so, is based on more than rhetoric and posturing, of course. It is based on a real concern for jobs going elsewhere than to BC workers, and all of the attendant economic spin-off associated with such projects.


Nonetheless, it is hard not to say that the unions in the province had it coming to be discounted in the process, given their militancy and arrogance, let alone what happened with the contracts relating to the NDP's greatest financial folly the fast-ferry foul-up captained by former NDP premier Glen Clark.


The contracts associated with those three unsuitable, ineffective and ultimately-unused ships saw the costs escalate to more than twice the original price-tag that Clark presented to the public, thanks to value-added clauses and conditions which left the project with no financial control over the work or the workers.


So whyinhell would BC Ferries want to go through that again?


Amid the cries denouncing the corporation for sending the business to Europe as being blatantly stupid (as one of the governments own MLAs, Dan Jarvis of North Vancouver, did), the concept of getting the best price from open tendering is often lost from sight. The suggestion that the government has some kind of moral responsibility to make it a BC-only contract is what is blatantly stupid.


If British Columbia shipyards can bid honestly in open tendering, and win the bid without any add-ons to muddy the waters afterward, all the power to them. If they cannot, many BC taxpayers, especially those who live elsewhere than the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island, likely would support the cost savings of the lowest bid, regardless of where it came from.


We have seen more than enough of how political interference, no business plans and incompetent management has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions; we do not need to revisit that simply to fly the BC flag on a project.


Politics is, of course, at play here on all sides. The Liberals want to punish the unions, the opposition parties see it as an opportunity to score points and votes by wrapping themselves in the flag, and the general public gets half the truth half the time from all sides. B.C. Unity Party leader Chris Delaney says BC Ferries statement that BC shipyards do not have the capacity to handle the $500million project is disingenuous and ridiculous. He adds that the economies of Germany and Finland are comparable with BC and that there is no competitive advantage to building the ships overseas in today's closely competitive currency markets. In addition, Delaney says the spin-off benefits from the jobs created, taxes paid, as well as the expansion of the shipbuilding industry would be enormous for BC.


Fine, so let them prove they can do the project first, then let them be included in the bidding, and may the best one win  one we can trust will hold to the deal.


Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at






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