MacKay begins cross-country contract tour


Military infrastructure announcements part of government stimulus plans


By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen


March 14, 2009



Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the infrastructure contracts he is announcing are ‘an important part of the government’s effort to stimulate the economy.’


Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the infrastructure contracts he is announcing are ‘an important part of the government’s effort to stimulate the economy.’

Photograph by: Mathieu Belanger, Reuters, The Ottawa Citizen


Defence Minister Peter MacKay launched a cross-country tour Friday to award infrastructure contracts on military bases in an effort to show the Harper government is helping put Canadians back to work during the recession.


Some of the projects are new while others have been under way or planned for some time. But defence insiders say the tour is designed to generate positive publicity in various regions for the Conservatives, as well as send the message the government is being decisive in pumping federal money into the economy.


In Victoria, MacKay announced $266 million worth of work, the bulk centred on the fourth phase of an ongoing modernization project for the navy’s fleet-maintenance facility. That project originally started in the early 1990s and has been unfolding over the years with the renovations of existing structures and the building of new ones.


Also included in the announcement is the construction of a hazardous-material facility. Work began last year on that project.


In addition, MacKay said a contract has been awarded to a Vancouver firm to design hangars and other facilities at Pat Bay, B.C., for the air force’s new Cyclone helicopters expected to arrive several years from now. The Defence Department’s contribution to road work near Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt was also included in Friday’s announcement.


On Sunday, MacKay will make an early-morning announcement at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton and then fly to Winnipeg that afternoon to unveil other infrastructure projects involving the air force’s 17 Wing.


The next day, MacKay will be at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., to announce yet more construction contacts.


“This is a first round of announcements,” MacKay said of his cross-country tour.


He noted that other contracts will be made public in the coming months.


MacKay said the contacts are “an important part of the government’s effort to stimulate the economy.”


He said the contracts announced at CFB Esquimalt will generate an estimated 1,400 direct employment opportunities over the course of the work.


Some defence analysts have pointed out that infrastructure improvements to military bases could be used to significantly stimulate regional economies. The Defence Department’s infrastructure holdings are immense, including about 21,000 buildings; 5,400 kilometres of road; and 3,000 kilometres of water, storm and sewer pipes. Much of that infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced or upgraded.


Some Conservatives have privately complained that the government’s previous announcements of big-ticket defence procurements have not generated the political goodwill they had hoped for.


In the summer of 2006, then-defence minister Gordon O’Connor announced billions of dollars in new projects to purchase transport aircraft, helicopters, supply ships and trucks.


But defence analyst Allen Sens said the Canadian public expected that the Harper government would re-equip the Canadian Forces. “When they did do that people just shrugged,” said Sens, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia. “So the Conservatives were left standing around wondering where was all the music and confetti from Canadians on this.”


In January, the government was also criticized in the Commons and by the Canadian Auto Workers union after MacKay went to Quebec to announce a $274-million contract for new army trucks. But the selected firm, Navistar, is going to build the vehicles in Texas. At the same time, Navistar is laying off 700 Canadian workers at its Chatham, Ont., truck plant.


Navistar has said it would cost too much to retool its existing truck-assembly plant in Chatham to build the army trucks.


In addition, domestic aerospace firms have complained they have been frozen out of the defence equipment projects the Conservatives announced in the summer of 2006 or that such contracts have not created high-quality jobs in Canada.


The infrastructure projects being announced by MacKay are different, however, since they involve local companies and the results can be seen directly in the communities involved, Sens said.


“I’m not surprised that MacKay is hop-scotching across the country announcing infrastructure contracts,” he said. “It’s when you start spending locally that not only do you get constituency attention and support, but you get a bit of countrywide attention.”


For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to the Ottawa Citizen and David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:


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