Shipbuilding stakeholders talk shop in Esquimalt

Seaspan, post-secondary institutions, federal government, Township represented at roundtable discussion

Have you ever watched an $8-billion brainstorming session?

That’s exactly what took place in Esquimalt last week, as the Township hosted a roundtable discussion with the major stakeholders connected to Seaspan’s federal shipbuilding contract.

“(The roundtable) was extremely valuable, because it put navy, dockyard and Seaspan all in the same room, along with the people working to provide the education to the workers for those facilities,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said afterward.

The forum included representatives from the British Columbia Institute of Technology and Camosun College, where many of the 3,000 tradespeople that will be needed before 2020 at Seaspan’s Victoria and Vancouver shipyards will be trained.

The discussion was intended to help Esquimalt council and staff understand their role in the monumental economic activity ramping up in the region.

“The service of the fleet is more lucrative than the building of the fleet,” John Shaw, Seaspan’s vice-president of business development, said at the meeting. “In Vancouver, once you launch the ship, it’s launched.”

Ship repair will translate into at least 30 years of sustainable jobs in the shipyards, if the company stays competitive with other shipyards on the West Coast, Shaw said.

Esquimalt is undertaking an economic development process that includes consultation with seven sectors, including the latest session with shipbuilding and national defence.

The roundtable discussions provide a venue for each stakeholder to suggest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their sector. It is then the township’s job to come up with practical ways of spurring development forward.

“We’re asking who makes up community and how we can help them, while maintaining what’s best for residents,” Desjardins said.

Alex Reuben, chair of the province’s shipbuilding and repair task force, was at the meeting and agreed with Shaw that ship repair is the key to Esquimalt’s long-term economic success.

Reuben is also executive director of the Marine Training and Applied Research Centre. The industry-led centre, on Songhees Nation land adjacent to Esquimalt, is billed by the province as a worker training site and a focal point for applied research to help meet increased business demand.

“The stability of the Seaspan contract, going forward, sets our shipbuilding and repair dockyard on a secure footing that it’s never had before,” Desjardins said.

“If what we’ve done in any way facilitates better communication for those partnerships, then we’ve already started to succeed in helping this industry do better.”

Roundtable discussions with other sectors, including education, developers and First Nations will take place over the coming months. A draft community economic development strategy should be ready to present to council this spring, Desjardins said.

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