Fed funding targets dry docks in St. Catharines
HMCS Athabaskan is pictured at the Port Weller Dry Docks in this file photo.
The 80-year-old Port Weller Dry Docks have been slated for a $5-million federal facelift.
The money — set aside to rehabilitate the aging dry docks in 2013 and 2014 — was announced in Thursday’s federal budget. Work at the docks hasn’t been hobbled by age yet, said Seaway Marine and Industrial operations director Charlie Payne, and the funding will keep it from getting that bad.
“It’s very welcome news. The dry dock is quite old. It needs quite a bit of work,” he said.
“This is a good shot in the arm to bring them back up to modern standards.”
The announcement comes as part of a Building Canada Plan, under which the federal government will look to rebuild infrastructure. That itself is part of a federal budget that promises to slay Canada’s $25.9-billion deficit by 2015.
At the moment, the dry docks employs 130 people.
“We will be able to continue at a high level of service,” Payne said. “It’s just welcome to see it. The St. Lawrence Seaway and Welland Canal are very important to the economy of central North America.”
St. Catharines Conservative MP Rick Dykstra said he hopes refurbishing the dry docks will pave the way for Seaway Marine signing a long-term lease there.
He said getting the funding in place was one of the tougher projects he has worked on.
“The fact that it got named in the budget means a lot.”
Dykstra said the funding means the federal government wants a long-term investment in ship repair in Niagara.
Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce CEO Walter Sendzik said it allows jobs to stay at the dry docks and maintains a business that is important to the Great Lakes.
He praised the budget’s manufacturing investments and incentives for training.
The document provides for a Canada Job Grant, which forks over $15,000 — $5,000 from the federal government, matched by the employer and the province — for job training. And it includes $200 million for a five-year Advanced Manufacturing Fund for Ontario.
The job grant irked Welland NDP MP Malcolm Allen, who slammed the program for sticking the province and employers with two-thirds of the cost, only for the federal government to take credit.
“You’re not going to get people trained in $15,000 to the skill level this prime minister is talking about,” he said.
He said the budget throws a few bones like the dry dock cash to Niagara, but he said he didn’t see much progress on the jobs front.
The region, he said, needed more from the budget, especially with the economy flagging.
“It was rather underwhelming,” Allen said.
“They call it Canada’s Action Plan. It looks like Canada’s Inaction Plan.”
Training an apprentice can cut a skilled worker’s output to as low as 50%, said Mike Whatling, founder and vice-chair of the Niagara Industrial Association.
“Everyone knows what kind of dire straits we’re in for the skilled trades shortage,” he said, adding jobs are there but there aren’t enough qualified bodies to fill them.
“We’re going to need those skills to continue the re-shoring of jobs for North America.”
Dykstra also touted a move to index gas tax dollars paid that are back to municipalities. That, he said, will help Niagara.
Niagara-on-the-Lake also got a federal budget namedrop — the budget sets aside money for border infrastructure, including modern, expanded border facilities in a handful of municipalities like Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Twitter: @JeffB_StandardFACTBOX: COLD HARD CASH
Dykstra praised the budget for scratching tariffs on baby clothing and sporting gear.
He said eliminating that charge will see buyers save anything from 2.5% to 18% on hockey gear, 6% to 20% on skis and snowboards and about 18% on baby clothes.
“Who wouldn’t like saving money when they purchase hockey equipment for the kids?” he said.
FACTBOX: BY THE DIGITS
$5 million for the Port Weller Dry Docks
130 workers at the drydocks
80 years is the age of the facility
Will the federal funding for the St. Catharines dry docks make a difference?
Yes, every improvement there helps in future bids
No, larger forces are at play that impact their business