In Canada, Even Our Ships Are Made In China

A Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted August 30th,  2011 on Niagara At Large

Normally I love stories about boats. So I turned to one that appeared recently on the front page of the St. Catharines Standard – a God-awful excuse for a newspaper that gets stuffed in my door for free every Friday whether I want it or not – and my love for boat stories started to capsize.

New Algoma ship en route  from shipbuilding docks in China

It was a story that began on a very upbeat note about the christening in Port Colborne, Ontario this past August 25 of a brand new ship called the Algoma Mariner, owned by the St. Catharines-based shipping corporation Algoma Central. To the extent that this time-honoured company is still willing to invest tens-of-millions of dollars in new ships to ply our Great Lakes and waters beyond is a good thing. No doubt.

Then I turned to page five of the newspaper where the story about the christening of the Algoma Mariner continued and the subheading at the top read: ‘Ship built in China’, and I hope I’m not the only one who read that heading and reacted with something like – ‘What?!! Made in China again? Can’t we build anything here in our own country anymore? Does everything have to be imported? Even ships? Canada was once a proud shipbuilding country, for God’s sake!’
So I put in a call to Greg Wight, the president and CEO of Algoma, and when he called me back a few days later, I began by congratulating him on the new ship then proceeded to ask why it was built in China instead of somewhere here in Canada. His answer was that there are simply no shipyards in the country with the technological abilities and facilities for building a ship as high-tech and large as this one, spanning more than two football fields from bow to stern.

Meanwhile, St. Catharines, Ontario’s Port Weller Dry Docks sit idol. Photo by Doug Draper

Then I called Charles Payne, director of operations for Seaway Marine & Industrial (formerly Port Weller Dry Docks at the northern end of the Welland Canal in St. Catharines) and he said that is wrong.

“We were disappointed,” he said of the news that this ship was built in China. He said his company and at least one other, Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec, could have tackled the Algoma Mariner project and succeeded.

In the case of his St. Catharines, Ontario ship yard, it would have meant tens-of-millions of dollars of work for a company that would normally keep at least 140 Niagara residents employed in good-paying jobs, but has been down to a skeleton staff of about five since this past June because there has been no work.

It turns out that a ship that may cost about $70 million to build in Canada might be built for about $40 million in China due mostly to lower wages. To make things worse for Canadians struggling to keep a job in manufacturing here, the federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper killed a 25 per cent import duty a year or so ago on Chinese products that would have made bids by Canadian manufacturers wanting to compete for jobs, like building this Algoma ship, more competitive. Instead the reduced import tax favours those who would rather have their products built in China for a price so cheap they still come ahead with the cost of transporting the products half way across the world to buyers here.

Some argue that Canadian manufacturers should therefore reduce their costs, but what does that mean? Cutting the wages of their workers to $10 an hour and gutting their benefits? I wonder how many teachers or police or other public sector workers out there would enjoy the possibility of that happening to them?

Just something to thing about around the christening of this ship. Why isn’t the sub-Standard exploring that story on behalf of the people who are struggling to make a life here?

(Niagara At Large invites you to share your views in the comment boxes below.)


10 responses to “In Canada, Even Our Ships Are Made In China

  1. Yeah, and when Dykstra made the big announcement (several times I might add), that they had removed the 25% import duty on ships built overseas, he was so proud about how the Conservative government had been able to save jobs. Rick was congratulated by the Seafarers Union and he was also endorsed by them in the last election. How many Canadian jobs did this reduction in duty save? I doubt that it saved many St. Catharines jobs. Why didn’t Rick worry about the jobs that he lost at our local shipyard…


  2. With regards to the Standard, do they ever do any investigative reporting? I do remember a time that they did.


  3. This is another sign of the hollowing out of the middle class, third world style.


  4. The St. Catharines Standard is just that “sub standard” nobody should waste their time or money purchasing such a rag that is owned by a conglomerate that cannot report accurately or fairly on anything, in my opinion.
    These people are only reporting on the simple easy tasks that will not cause them to exert themselves or take away from their leisure time.
    Times have changed and peoples’ opinions have changed, and that is fine. But as an ex reader and purchaser of that so-called paper, I have chosen not to advertise, purchase or read that fish wrap any more.


  5. What did the Chinese buy from Canada to use in building this ship ????????????


  6. What did you expect from a Corporate Conservative government whose role is to cut corporate taxes and respond to the bidding of their corporate an extreme cost to Blue Collared, unemployed Canadian workers…SHAME!!!!. When the Seafarers Union backed the Conservative bid for a majority government they not only sold out their country they also sold out their own “Brothers and Sisters”. I wonder if this support was the from the few who control the Union and not the members and if this is the case then they, the members should throw this gang the h…. out at the next election of officers..


  7. After last June 2010’s G20 in Toronto, Stephen Harper told Canadians that there’s no such thing as a Canadian economy any more, only a global economy. It’s no surprise, I guess, that our Prime Minister is concerned to keep the Chinese workers in jobs. Exactly HOW that is supposed to benefit Canadian workers, however, is still a mystery to me. Is the idea that the Chinese worker, despite his low wages, will be able to buy OUR products? Oh, wait a minute — we don’t make anything for export any more…
    Canada under Harper: fast-track to third-world status. The question is: WHY?


  8. I wonder how much lead paint was used as undercoat on that ship? I worked in a shipyard when I was a teenager in the stores, Birkenhead UK, Cammell Lairds, I also had an Uncle who died young, painting iron with lead paint, China is not great at protecting it’s workers, so why do we do business with them? Canadian work and jobs sent overseas again, does anybody remember that Canada after the 2nd World War ended, we had the third largest navy in the world. OH CANADA ! who stands on guard for thee.


  9. Good question. Why ARE we enriching China to the detriment of our own workers? They’re a one party government, not world reknown for human rights etc.


  10. William Robinson

    Canada doesn’t have the technological capabilities to build advanced ships?Guess we don’t have enough bamboo to use for scaffolding!


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