It’s time to stop criticizing the faulted restoration of a Canadian symbol, the deputy minister overseeing the reconstruction of the Bluenose II said on Wednesday.
After meeting with the committee on public accounts to discuss the ever-increasing costs, Paul LaFleche, of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR), said he’s had enough.
“I’m here to implore everybody to move on,” LaFleche told the committee.
The deputy minister said the constant criticism is tarnishing the name of the boatbuilding industry in Nova Scotia — an industry that directly employs thousands of people and brings in $60 million to the province’s Gross Domestic Product, all from rural communities.
The prolonged rebuild was initially introduced in 2009 as a $14.4 million endeavour. So far, the total spending has reached $23.8 million, Shannon Delbridge, TIR’s executive director of public works at the annual meeting informs the committee.
That number will increase once more upon the installation of a new rudder. Delbridge reassures the committee that the final project will remain under the new estimate of $25 million by the time it is completed this spring.
LaFleche said a big part of the problem was that different political administrations all made mistakes handling the troubled file as it switched hands and departments over the past eight years.
NDP member Lenore Zann said that although she has fond memories growing up with the Bluenose II — and that criticism of the timely ordeal isn’t helpful — there’s no denying that taxpayers are irritated with the ongoing process.
“The public is becoming frustrated because it’s costing so much,” said Zann. “It seems like it was just a comedy of errors, but they’d really like to just see it built and not have to foot a much larger bill.”
LaFleche was also questioned about a settlement deal that paid $5 million worth of work orders in dispute. Last March, Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said the province has already paid $1.2 million and is set to pay the remaining $3.8 million owned to the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, the association responsible for the Bluenose II reconstruction, by this March.
Tim Houston, a Progressive Conservative member, questioned why the province agreed to settle for a much higher payment than what was recommended by an expert who analyzed the matter.
“You completely ignored the expert’s advice,” said Houston.
Officials from the department dismissed the claim, saying they were given a range of possible payments.
LaFleche said the people responsible for the early political and financial errors are effectively gone, and the department has learned from their mistakes as they move forward.
“The end story is that we have a great vessel,” said LaFleche. “As time goes on, no one is going to remember the time and money spent on this project, instead, they’re going to remember how beautiful this boat is.”
Delbridge loves hearing positive feedback from tourists, and how impressed they are that Lunenburg has been able to continue its shipbuilding history.
“It’s amazing really,” said Delbridge. “One man comes from Ontario every summer, just to see the Bluenose II launch from the Lunenburg waterfront.”