By Mark Cardwell

Lynne Yelich says she considers this month’s ­shipbuilders’ summit in Vancouver to be more than a key event for the future of shipbuilding on Canada’s West Coast.

She also sees it as a golden opportunity for businesses from across Western Canada to become involved in the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).

“I’m very excited about this forum,” said the federal Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification Canada (WED), which is co-hosting the three-day event with Seaspan Shipyards.

“It will bring together all the primary stakeholders in NSPS (and) provide the chance for small- and medium-size businesses from across the West to have access to them and to see where and how they can participate in the whole process.”

Yelich added that some 330 participants are expected to attend the summit, which begins May 23, 2012. The summit will be the first in a series of events under a federally devised and driven Western Canada Shipbuilding Action Plan. The action plan is designed to help West Coast shipyards and their first-tier suppliers share information about specific shipbuilding projects under NSPS with companies of all stripes from Western Canada that are interested in learning about – and ultimately bidding on – those shipbuilding opportunities.

Under the $33-billion NSPS, which represents the largest procurement sourcing arrangement in Canadian history, the Seaspan/Vancouver Shipyard consortium was selected to build the $8-billion non-combat vessel work package.

Together with the $25-billion package landed by Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, which will build combat vessels, the package is expected to create thousands of high-value jobs across the country and provide significant economic benefits in shipbuilding and related industries to companies across Canada over the next 20 to 30 years.

In addition to the summit, Yelich’s agency will be putting on a series of shipbuilding ‘boot camps’ across the Prairies in the coming months.

WED will also be leading so-called ‘Supplier Development Tours’ that are intended to both showcase Western Canada’s shipbuilding cap­abilities and link Western Canadian businesses to key NSPS decision-makers. According to a background document on the Western Canadian shipbuilding action plan, these events “will help businesses navigate federal pro­curement pro­cesses and prepare them to take advantage of these new opportunities.”

In addition to the summit, boot camps and supplier development tools, the action plan calls for WED to continue with ongoing efforts “to examine opportunities for investment that will further develop and grow Western Canada’s shipbuilding industry (and) act as the champion for Western Canada’s shipbuilding industry, promoting its strengths ensuring its long-term competitiveness.”

An example of the agency’s efforts was a recent federal decision to invest more than $1 million in the construction of a new provincially owned, NSPS-linked marine training support centre in Esquimalt, B.C.

“Our government is committed to supporting Western Canada’s maritime and shipbuilding industry,” Yelich said at the February 13, 2012, announcement near the future site of the Industrial Marine Training and Applied Research Centre. “Our action plan for this industry will create jobs and stimulate long-term economic growth for the West.”

She also linked the investment to the federal government’s national Economic Action Plan, which aims to support such key drivers of economic growth as research, education and training by providing assistance to the manufacturing sector. The action plan may also provide spinoff benefits to the shipbuilding industry.

Yelich, who has represented the rural Saskatchewan riding of Blackstrap since 2000, says her immediate concern is trying to clear her schedule so that she is free to attend all three days of the upcoming summit in Vancouver.

“I don’t want to miss a thing,” she said in a phone interview from her office on Parliament Hill on May 2, which marked the first anniversary of her Conservative Party’s majority win in last year’s general election. “It’s going to be so exciting for me to see and help small- and medium-size enterprises from across Western Canada be a part of what’s going on with NSPS.”

Information about the Western Canada’s Shipbuilding Action Plan is available online at Businesses and in­­dividuals who wish to attend the shipbuilding conference can register on the website.