09/24/2014 10:59 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST

Deputy minister blames department for delay of Bluenose restoration

HALIFAX - The senior bureaucrat in charge of the delayed and over-budget Bluenose II restoration says one of the main problems plaguing the project has been that the wrong government department was chosen to oversee the work in 2009.

David Darrow, the premier's deputy minister, told a legislative committee Wednesday that the Department of Culture and Heritage doesn't have the experts in place to manage such a complex capital project.

"I don't think (the department) was particularly well-positioned or qualified to undertake this project," Darrow told the public accounts committee.

"You really need the capacity to manage the project manager. To do that, you need to have people who have had experience in project management."

Darrow pulled together his own team of managers and advisers in May when Premier Stephen McNeil asked him to take over the project from Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince.

The project is more than two years behind schedule and $5 million over budget.

In January, McNeil said the restoration of the province's sailing ambassador had become such a mess that he called it a "boondoggle." He then asked the province's auditor general to investigate.

Darrow said Wednesday the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department should have been put in charge when the project started because it has extensive project management and engineering experience, particularly when it comes to larger projects.

As for when the Bluenose II will be completed, Darrow said its faulty steering mechanism should be upgraded with hydraulics and completed by late October.

At that point, the famed schooner should be ready for sea trials, but Darrow said the plan is to have the ship return to its regular sailing schedule in May 2015.

The Bluenose II was supposed to return to sailing in the summer of 2012 after an extensive two-year rebuild that had a budget of $14.4 million, about half of which was to come from the federal government.

The latest estimate is $19 million, and that doesn't include the $300,000 needed to fix a steering system that is so stiff it takes two people to turn the ship's ornate wheel.

As well, Darrow said the province only received about $4 million in federal funding because the project couldn't meet a federal deadline for infrastructure spending.

Darrow also told the committee that a decision by the previous NDP government to have the schooner meet the safety standards of the American Bureau of Shipping was a good idea, but the marine agency should have been brought in when the project started and not almost two years later.

"The project was well advanced by the time that decision was made," Darrow said.

"That had implications for the design. There was a need to go back and revisit the design to see if it was consistent with the ABS standards. ... And there may have been some things that were done that had to be undone."

Among other things, the agency called for the use of a steel rudder, which has proven to be too heavy to turn properly.

Darrow said he didn't know who made the decision to ask the Culture and Heritage Department to oversee the project because he hasn't delved into the history of the project's beginnings.

Outside the legislature, interim NDP leader Maureen MacDonald said the project was well underway by the time the party assumed power in June 2009.

As for the decision to seek certification from the American Shipping Bureau, MacDonald said that was the result of a recommendation from government staff.