HALIFAX — It’s time to stop criticizing and complaining about the troubled restoration of a Canadian icon, said the deputy minister overseeing the Bluenose II revitalization Feb. 8 after years of technical missteps that have seen the project’s cost balloon to about $25 million.
Paul LaFleche said the divisive debate about the storied schooner's prolonged rebuild only hurt the province's shipbuilding industry and tarnish the image of the 43-metre vessel, a replica of the original Grand Banks fishing schooner that won worldwide fame for its design and speed.
"I'm here to implore everybody to move on," LaFleche, of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, told the public accounts committee.
"Everybody made mistakes...The real issues come up because of the politics of this and we as civil servants wish that everyone would step aside from the politics of this."
LaFleche said part of the problem was that different political administrations made mistakes in handling the troubled file as it changed hands and departments since it was first announced in 2009 as a $14.4-million endeavour.
All three parties could be said to wear some blame for the debacle. The restoration project was announced by a Progressive Conservative government prior to the 2009 election, and much of the work was carried out under the watch of the former NDP government before the Liberals took power in 2013.
The cost is now pegged at $23.8 million — and will increase once a new rudder is factored in.
The province announced last March that it will replace the Bluenose II's troublesome three-tonne rudder and steering system, the latest development in a saga that saw the replica vessel hit the water more than four years late.
The installation of the controversial steel rudder — which is more than 10 times heavier than the original's wooden rudder — was singled out in a report by the province's auditor general for helping to delay and add significant costs to the project.
Those costs included a $700,000 hydraulic steering system that was needed to deal with the terrific force required to turn the rudder for the 300-tonne ship.
LaFleche said the wooden rudder is now in the final stages of construction at Snyder's Shipyard, while Lunenburg Industrial Foundry and Engineering are providing the berth. The province has said the rudder will likely cost about $500,000.
NDP member Lenore Zann said that while the criticisms may not be helpful, taxpayers have been frustrated over the ongoing process and the soaring costs.
"It seems like it was just a comedy of errors with all of the things that have gone wrong and I know the public is frustrated because it's costing so much and they'd really like to just see it built and not have to foot this much larger bill," she said.
LaFleche was also asked about the amount of money paid to settle $5 million worth of work orders that were in dispute. Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said last March that the province had already paid $1.2 million of that amount and would pay the remaining $3.8 million owed to the Lunenburg Shipyard Alliance, the consortium responsible for the restoration.
Progressive Conservative Tim Houston questioned LaFleche why the province agreed to a settlement payment of $2.9 million rather than the $850,000 that was recommended by an expert who did an analysis on the matter.
"You ignored the expert's advice," he said.
Officials from the department dismissed that claim, saying they assessed a range of possible payments.