Irving Shipbuilding Inc. is looking for new employees – in Poland – to help build Canada’s next fleet of warships. Posters promoting a job fair have appeared in Gdansk, encouraging workers to “join the next generation of Canadian shipyard workers.” Shipbuilding is a highly technical art, and experienced production managers and fitters are topping the employer’s wish list.

Although there has been some grumbling over the offshore recruitment efforts, the search outside Canada’s borders is not unexpected. Irving has always been clear about searching elsewhere for some of the expertise required to complete the $25- billion contract the company won from the federal government in 2011 to build 15 warships and eight Arctic patrol vessels if that expertise lies outside Nova Scotia or Canada. This stance is not unreasonable nor unrealistic, despite some grumbling on the home front.

In response to the most recent flap over the Polish job fair, an Irving spokesperson told reporters that 95% of the company’s workforce is Canadian and that job opportunities go first to people in Canada. However, the spokesperson noted, sometimes the expertise or qualified job candidates can’t be found here.

There is still plenty of work for Nova Scotians having to do with the 30-year project, which continues to ramp up, albeit behind schedule (a little or a lot, depending on which reports you read).

There also is nitpicking over numbers. Critics pooh-pooh the government’s initial prediction that the contract will create 11,500 jobs for Nova Scotians at peak production and contribute $1 billion to provincial gross domestic product.

The project already has resulted in a $350-million upgrade to the Halifax Shipyard and work continues on the build – despite predictions that the federal Liberal government would axe the initiative altogether or cut back on the number of ships. So far, the doomsayers have not been correct.

In a recent letter to the Montreal Gazette, Kevin McCoy, president of Irving Shipbuilding, shared his irritation by pointing out that the National Shipbuilding Strategy “has resulted in over $1.1 billion in spending commitments across Canada.”

That is money carefully spent, the letter added: “Our guaranteed cost arrangement with Canada, in which we assume the risk of cost overruns, motivates us to efficiently build Canada’s future fleet.”

The shipbuilding project is a trump card in the provincial economy and the provincial government – whichever party is in power – plays it as often as possible.

Right now, Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil could use some smooth sailing. McNeil and his party are likely go to the polls this year, and they need a winning project for their election platform.

The shipbuilding contract has always been seen as just that.

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