Quebec company says it will sue New Brunswick over failed bid to seize dry dock

Premier Blaine Higgs rejects claims, saying Groupe Océan has no right to complain

Quebec’s Groupe Océan says it plans to sue the Higgs government over the province’s failed attempt to block it from moving its floating dry dock from New Brunswick to Quebec.

A Federal Court judge ruled Thursday that the province could not prevent the company from moving the dry dock from the shipyard in the village of Bas-Caraquet.

But the government’s initial injunction, which blocked the move for several days, caused the company to miss its window to make the move and may delay it by days, weeks or even months. 

“To be stopped like that and to have to wait for the next window of opportunity, it will cost us a lot of money, and for sure, we will assert our rights in regard to this cost,” said company spokesperson Philippe Filion. 

Higgs rejects allegation of ‘bad faith’

Filion said the province acted in bad faith when it went to Federal Court for an order blocking the move just days before the company’s long-planned date. 

The government knew for months that Groupe Océan could only move the dry dock at high tide, Filion said. He accused the province of halting the move during that window and then not making a strong case once the opening had passed.

“For us, this is bad faith,” he said Friday.

Premier Blaine Higgs rejected that, saying Groupe Océan had secured a sweetheart deal that gave it no right to complain.

“Given the lucrative nature of this contract that the province handed to them a few years ago, it’s kind of ironic they would take that position,” he said.

He said the ruling wasn’t a defeat for the province because it will also see Groupe Océan pay the province $260,000 in bail for the dry dock.

Premier Blaine Higgs says Groupe Océan secured a sweetheart deal that gave it no right to complain. 

And he said the company’s supposed window for launching the dry dock has shifted by several days in discussions with provincial officials. The government gave them permission before the court action to get ready to move the dry dock, he said.

“I think what the delay is going to turn out to be is the hurricane,” he said, meaning Hurricane Dorian, which is expected to affect New Brunswick on the weekend.

Groupe Océan is an anchor tenant at the New Brunswick Naval Centre, the government-owned shipyard in Bas-Caraquet. The province took over ownership under the previous Liberal government after the yard ran out of money.

Not enough local workers, company says

Groupe Océan says it always planned to build the dry dock at the shipyard to give local workers training and experience for future projects, and then move it to its other facilities in Quebec. 

The province accused the company of trying to move the dry dock before it was finished to complete electrical work on it there.

The company claimed that it could not find qualified workers to do the job in Bas-Caraquet, though both Higgs and a provincial trade union disputed that claim. The province took what Higgs called the “extreme measure” to seize the dry dock to force the company to do the work here.

But Filion said the province’s move was an attempt to blame Groupe Océan for the problems at the shipyard. Several other boat builders are tenants at the yard. 

Higgs said last month that taxpayers have invested $10 million in the dry dock. Filion said it has always been part of the company’s agreement in 2014 that the province would fund the construction and Groupe Océan would lease it over 20 years. 

The premier said that’s an overly generous deal that sees New Brunswick taxpayers subsidize infrastructure for a Groupe Océan facility in Quebec that will draw business away from Bas-Caraquet.

“This is a disgrace, the deal that was struck here,” he said.

Filion acknowledged Hurricane Dorian is a factor in when the dry dock can be launched, but he said unsettled fall weather will also create obstacles.

“We continue to work on different scenarios and we’re trying to figure out what the next window of opportunity will be to launch the floating dry dock,” he said.

The cost of the delay could run to six figures and includes the expense of keeping two tugboats and a barge on standby in Bas-Caraquet, he added. 

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