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Ferries, frigates and PR

This morning, in the bright sunshine down south, I woke up early and read the Vancouver Sun online.  One of the highlighted stories on the website was about the Seaspan bid for the multi-billion dollar Federal Navy/Coast Guard contract.

The story, like a lot of Sun business stories, reads like a press release from an over enthusiastic public relations firm.  But that’s not what made do a double take. 

No, it was the front and centre role assigned to the premier, right down to her picture fronting the piece.  “Christy, the provincial saleswoman” is the gist of the story.

It’s been a running theme in Postmedia's Vancouver newspaper that started when Clark was sworn in.  I assume her office, (PR at work again), gave The Vancouver Sun a copy of her remarks ahead of time and called the someone to set up the story.

In this case reality is pretty much the exact reverse of how the story reads. Christy Clark, her government and her finance minister are some of the BC shipbuilding industry’s biggest problems.

Until two weeks ago, if you listened to Kevin Falcon, David Hahn, John Les, Barry Penner and the rest of the BC Liberals and their hired hands, you wouldn’t think BC shipbuilders were capable of building a bath toy,much less frigates. 

British Columbia ferries, made in Germany

It all stems from the British Columbia Liberal government’s 2004 decision to build BC ferries in Germany, snubbing BC shipbuilders.  Defending that decision, which didn’t even shortlist local builders, meant attacking the local industry.

Attack, they did.  In fact, it wouldn’t be too much to say that the BC Liberals thoroughly trashed the local industry in order to defend their decision to send ferry building jobs to Germany.

Here's what BC Ferries CEO David Hahn had to say about the BC shipbuilding industry.

“The Canadian bidder did not have the shipbuilding infrastructure, technology or experience required to build large, complex vessels.... This was underscored by confirmation from its parent company, Washington Marine Group, that it is currently building its own large vessels offshore.”

 BC Ferries chief spokesperson Mark Stephanson expanded on Hahn's remarks.

“Domestic shipbuilders were included in the first review… but they didn't make the shortlist.  The reason was a lack of infrastructure -- cranes, equipment, shipyard buildings and manpower."

Kevin Falcon's comments on BC's ferry builders

Kevin Falcon, Christy Clark's finance minister, absolutely agreed:

"They did not have the capacity or the capability to deliver large vessels with the kind of certainty and cost savings that were realized by going off shore," he said in an interview.

Falcon went on to say in the legislature, "BC Ferries made exactly the right decision," because the BC industry wasn't up to the job.  

If I were BC’s competitors for the federal shipbuilding contracts I’d be handing out these statements - and there are more of them, many more –  to every MP, minister and decision maker in Ottawa.

Reality TV vs. reality

After all what’s better than your competitor trashing their own product?  It’s like one of those hidden camera moments on The Apprentice.

Clark, in another Vancouver Sun puff piece said “even the best deals need salespeople” and went on to promise,  “I'm going to be one of the chief salespeople on this deal."

You can hear the guffaws all the way from Halifax… that is if, unlike the Vancouver Sun, you’re listening.

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