Canadian naval ships will be built on the North Shore for the first time in decades if the Liberals form the next federal government, according to party leader Michael Ignatieff.
Ignatieff made the commitment on his way to a speaking engagement in West Vancouver Sunday. The promise that could translate into hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars for a North Vancouver shipyard.
“Of course we will,” Ignatieff said in an interview with the North Shore News. “We need balance. There are shipyards in Atlantic Canada. There are shipyards on the St. Lawrence and there are shipyards out here. We need a balanced program in terms of long-term stable employment on both coasts.”
The Conservative government plans on awarding long-term, multi-billion dollar contracts to two Canadian shipyards to build more than 100 navy vessels over the next 30 years. North Vancouver’s Washington Marine Group faces stiff competition for the work from rival yards in Quebec and Nova Scotia.
“We’d need to review the current policy,” Ignatieff said. “The sense of having long-term work instead of stops and starts, I get that part. Making sure we get good value for money on the contracts is important too. . . . We need to invest in Coast Guard protection. We need to invest in maritime surveillance. I want to make sure we have a balance between civilian and military procurement. It’s a double balance: East Coast and West Coast is balance one, balance two is making sure that it’s long-term so that the shipyards aren’t stop and start.”
Ignatieff also reiterated his support for a ban on oil tanker traffic near B.C.’s north coast, a policy that could potentially funnel oil exports through Lower Mainland ports.
“I look at the north coast and I look at how sensitive that area is. Look at the Kitimat Channel and you start thinking there are risks here that we don’t want to take. We’ve got marine protected areas here that the current government wants to expand — that part of it we support — but then they want to run oil tankers through there. I think it’s just imprudent; it’s too dangerous.”
“The key point here is let’s get the balance right,” he said. “I’ve been offered every opportunity in the world in the last three years to run against the Alberta oil sands. I will not do so. Energy exports are crucial to the future of the Canadian economy. Diversifying energy exports to markets in Asia, I’m in favour of. But not at the price of the environment and not at the price of aboriginal claims. This is Canada; these are constraints. If we can get double-hulled, safe exports of petroleum products to China, OK. If we can ship them out without endangering our marine environment, OK. But in my view, the dangers in Kitimat are just too substantial.”
Ignatieff sat down with the News as part of his Liberal Express summer bus tour, a series of campaign-style events across the country. In addition to a tanker ban and an enhanced role for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ignatieff said building economic ties with Asia is a key issue for B.C.
“I was in China in late June and the universal feeling there was that we have put the relationship in the deep freeze for four years under Mr. Harper. They’re now playing catch-up,” he said. “A crucial B.C. issue is developing market share in all the markets of Asia. That is a central role of a good federal government. We’ve neglected the relationship for four years and it’s crucial for employment and growth in B.C. Every senior leader of the apparatus that I met there said the guy who got this relationship right was Jean Chretien. He was there six times. If you want to have to a relationship with China that builds growth and opportunity for B.C. you’ve got to have a Prime Minister that commits, doesn’t give them finger-wagging lectures and megaphone diplomacy but gets in there and gets the job done.”
On the issue most British Columbians are talking about — the HST — Ignatieff said it was a good idea badly executed.
“We’ve always believed that tax harmonization is a good thing. But the way you do it is absolutely crucial. And the way it was done here has given every politician pause for reflection. The issue is not the tax, in my view. It had to do with democratic accountability and whether trust was broken. That’s an issue for the provincial Liberals, it’s not an issue for me. We’ve been clear on HST all along. But you have to do it right. If you lose the consent of the people on this, that’s a problem for Premier Campbell.”
Dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, Ignatieff spoke without notes or a lectern in front of a packed room in the West Vancouver Community Centre.
After being introduced by local Liberal candidate Dan Veniez, Ignatieff praised Canada’s multiculturalism and greeted the many Iranian-Canadians in the audience. The leader of the opposition called the current Iranian government “a tyranny.”
“This regime has to be sanctioned with a scalpel, so that we don’t hurt the broad base of the Iranian population that want nothing very different than what we want,” he said.
Ignatieff delivered a boisterous, election-style speech attacking the Conservative government for its handling of Afghan detainees, veterans’ affairs, the long gun registry, the census and the Tamil migrants. He also appealed to New Democrats, Greens and former Progressive Conservatives to “come on in to the big red tent.”
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