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File. The Coast Guard vessel Henry Larsen sits in drydock for routine maintenance at Halifax Shipyard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

By: The Canadian Press

Date: Monday Jun. 27, 2011 5:38 PM PT

Premier Christy Clark made her latest pitch for a British Columbia company’s bid to win $35 billion in federal shipbuilding contracts while standing in a college workshop that may one day help train a new generation of shipbuilders.

Clark chose the trades centre at the Victoria-area campus of Camosun College to announce her government’s support of B.C.’s shipbuilding industry with a $550,000 investment that will help develop an industry-led marine training centre.

Vancouver’s Seaspan Marine Corp. is one of four private companies bidding for the two federal shipbuilding contracts, which will build naval, Coast Guard and other vessels over the next 30 years.

The deadline for the bid is July 7 and the federal government is expected to make its decision within the next two months.

Shipbuilding companies from the East Coast, Ontario and Quebec are also expected to make bids.

“This is a project that will span two generations,” said Clark, who was in Ottawa last week to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal officials connected to the shipbuilding contracts.

“It’s a huge deal for British Columbia,” she said. “We will do, and I as your premier will do what it takes, to make sure we get our share of this national procurement program for British Columbia. It means an additional 6,800 job openings in B.C.”

Clark said the B.C. government backs Seaspan’s bid and she suggested there could be more shipping-related announcements before the bid deadline.

She said the government funding, provided through the federal-provincial Labour Market Development Agreement, will train workers for the shipbuilding industry even if Seaspan does not win the federal contracts.

“We can’t do this alone,” Clark said. “We are partners with Seaspan, BC Ferries and the Vancouver Island Technology Park, the B.C. Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union, Camosun College, First Nations, and, of course, also the federal government.”

The actual site of the training centre is near the Esquimalt Graving Dock, where much of the major ship repairs are conducted in the Victoria area.

Seaspan chief executive office Jonathan Whitworth said his company is contributing more than $300,000 to the training centre and BC Ferries is putting in more than $200,000.

“This is a win-win for the province as well as the shipbuilding industry,” he said.

Marine workers union president George MacPherson said the training centre ensures B.C. continues to bring young people into what was declared a sunset industry by federal officials years ago.

Camosun student Mila Puharich said she is enrolled in a welding program and hopes to use her skills to get a job in the shipbuilding industry.

“It’s five years and I’ll get there,” she said about her apprenticeship.