FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government has seized a partly built floating dry dock in a dispute with the Quebec−based company building it.
Ocean Group is building the $13-million project in Bas−Caraquet but plans to tow it to Quebec for completion, claiming it can’t find local electricians to do the necessary work.
“We tried to find specialized electricians in the region, but it is very specialized work. We did not find a company in northern New Brunswick that can guarantee the work, the cost, and the schedule,” Phillipe Filion, a spokesman for the company, said Thursday.
“In the agreement, we have no obligation to do these kinds of small details in New Brunswick. More than 95 per cent of the floating dry dock will be built in New Brunswick.”
But Premier Blaine Higgs said there are plenty of available electricians in the province — a point echoed by New Brunswick’s Building Trades Unions.
In a statement, the labour group’s president, Jean-Marc Ringuette, said he is perplexed by Ocean Group’s claim of a shortage of qualified electricians.
He said there are at least 200 “licensed and qualified electricians available for employment,” adding that 50 of them are within a 30-minute drive of the site and would welcome the work.
In a deal signed by the previous Liberal government, the province is paying for the construction of the dry dock — destined for Quebec after completion — and Ocean Group would lease it for 20 years, allowing the government to recover the cost.
But Higgs calls it a “ridiculous deal” that helps a Quebec yard and provides no long-term employment for the New Brunswick yard.
“We got taken as a province … in this business deal — no collateral, and no new business planned,” Higgs said in an interview Thursday.
Ringuette said the unions commend the government “for putting the best interest of all New Brunswickers in the forefront to ensure that the infrastructure bought and paid for by the New Brunswick taxpayer is not moved out of province along with the jobs, subsequent tax dollars and spinoffs that were promised by Groupe Ocean.”
He’s calling on the New Brunswick government to conduct an inquiry — something Higgs said he is considering.
Higgs said he’d like to sell the dry dock to Ocean Group and get out of the leasing arrangement.
Filion said he wants to discuss the matter with the premier but every effort to communicate with the premier’s office has been met with silence since March. Higgs said he was unaware of any requests to meet.
In the meantime, the government has received court approval to seize the dry dock.
“Until it is resolved, that vessel cannot leave New Brunswick waters. If it is floated, it must remain in an area that we mutually agree on, and of course that would be in New Brunswick,” Higgs said.
By Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press