Audit: N.S. government to blame for Bluenose II project

Auditor general Michael Pickup points to 'baffling' mismanagement that has left project floundering

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Michael Pickup, the auditor general of Nova Scotia, gave a dismal review of the government’s handling of the Bluenose II project. Photo: Jessica Flower

Nova Scotia’s auditor general  has placed the blame for the delayed and over-budget Bluenose II restoration firmly on the government and the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.

Michael Pickup released a scathing 47-page report Wednesday morning detailing the failings of the Nova Scotia government throughout the project, which is nearly three years overdue.

“It is baffling senior government officials let this happen and continued to let this happen,” he said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

“I am disappointed by the failure in government leadership to resolve the issues.”

Perhaps the most telling response was his five-second-long silence when a reporter half-jokingly asked what the government did right on the project. Pickup dismissed the question saying, “I assume you don’t want an answer to that.”

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Premier Stephen McNeil talks to reporters in response to Pickup’s report. Photo: Jessica Flower

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said that the blame should be placed with the previous NDP government who started the project. McNeil said his Liberal government, who asked for an audit last January, has been part of the solution, not the problem.

“It’s unfair to lay blame solely at the feet of the deputy ministers,” McNeil said, stating that the deputy ministers involved had asked for help but didn’t receive any.

The premier went on to announce that the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, headed by minister Geoff MacLellan, will oversee the completion of the project.

Beyond the management of the project, the design choices and conflicts in professional opinion by the project manager and external experts hired by the province led to further delays and complications. McNeil pointed to these outside management firms hired by the previous government as part of the issue.

The report highlighted several shortcomings, including:

  • Not enough risk-management meetings
  • Overly optimistic deadlines
  • Preliminary cost of $14.4 million used as the final budget
  • Project awarded to the lowest bidders, not most qualified
  • Unclear role assignment and definition within government sub-committees
  • Inadequate project planning between designer and builder
  • Lack of government oversight.

The auditor general pointed out that the department’s lack of experience with construction projects and “failure to adequately address obvious issues during the project” further aggravated the situation.

While the report did not address any issues to do with design or construction (it focused only on the department’s planning and management), it concluded that the management of the design and construction teams was poorly executed by government.

The project began in 2009 when the province decided to restore the historic sailing ambassador, as part of the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, a match-funding scheme in partnership with the federal government. The main goal of the project was to lower the high annual maintenance costs of keeping it seaworthy by restoring the vessel.

The original contract promised a delivery date of May 29, 2009, with a price tag of $12.5 million. As of Jan. 12, however, the project cost was at $19,572,989 with the province contributing $14,635,489 of that.

The auditor general recommended all future major construction projects be assigned to a department with proper construction experience and improved project management practices.

The project is still underway with no concrete end date.