Mark Collins – The Incredible Shrinking RCN: National Post Nails Government

The conservative-leaning paper cuts through the current government’s relentless and mendacious spin:

National Post View: Are the Tories sound managers? Not of the NavyThe HMCS Athabaskan near Sydney, Nova Scotia. Canada’s last destroyer is temporarily sidelined after a series of engine problems and other technical issues on the 43-year-old vessel caused senior navy leaders to worry the ship might not be able to continue operating.Lieutenant Jarrod David Franais The [sic] HMCS Athabaskan near Sydney, Nova Scotia. Canada’s last destroyer is temporarily sidelined after a series of engine problems and other technical issues on the 43-year-old vessel caused senior navy leaders to worry the ship might not be able to continue operating.

Pop quiz: Of the five major imminent Canadian defence procurements hailed in the Harper government’s Canada First Defence Strategy in 2008 [webpage here], how many have come to fruition at this writing? Here’s a hint; the answer is less than one and can be confused with a goose egg.

Seven years on, the party that promised to sweep away the “decade of darkness” suffered by the military in the deficit-busting Liberal 1990s has precious little to show for its pledges. On the contrary, this country’s major defence hardware, in particular the floating stock of the Royal Canadian Navy, is rusted out and, literally, falling apart.

Supply ships HMCS Protecteur and Preserver, linchpins of many a naval operation over the past four decades, have been retired, the former having caught fire early last year. HMCS Iroquois, a destroyer originally commissioned in 1972, is out of commission [see “The Incredible Shrinking RCN: Four Ships Going Down Section“]. And HMCS Athabaskan, the RCN’s last remaining destroyer, was recalled to port last week due to major problems with its engines and a generally alarming state of disrepair. Whether she will ever sail again on active duty is an open question [more here].

Is help on the way? Well, yes, after a fashion. Work has begun in Halifax on a small fleet of new Arctic patrol vessels [barely, see last comment here: “Contract Signed for 5 or 6 RCN Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships“], and four small coast guard vessels are in the works in Vancouver [see “New Canadian Coast Guard Vessels: Sticker Shock and Never Never Land (media scrutiny?)”]. In both cases completion is years away. New multi-purpose frigates [see ‘RCN Canadian Surface Combatant: Government Technical Briefing, May 1 (with “design spirals”)’] and a new three-season polar icebreaker are planned [see “The Great Canadian National Shipbuilding Procurement Screw-Up (aka NSPS), Icebreaker Section, Part 2“]; completion is years away. Construction of two new supply ships, in a queue in Vancouver behind the coast guard boats, is years away [see “Seaspan Building Joint Support Ships for RCN: No Smooth Sailing“]. Everything the Navy needs, it seems, is years away.

…in a flurry of activity in June just before the House rose for the summer, the government announced it would enter discussions with Levis-Que.-based Davie Shipyards, for the provision of a commercial tanker for naval resupply and refuelling. Davie says it can get such a ship ready within 16 months of signing [see “RCN Joint Support Ship Stopgap: Feds Talking with Davie, Québec“].

Meantime, Postmedia’s David Pugliese has reported the Navy will rent supply ships from Chile and Spain [see “Chilean Navy Temporarily to Provide Royal Canadian Navy with Supply Ship“]. We are, in other words, back to something like the Antonov days, when Canadian military disaster responders could only operate with the help of privately owned, long-haul Russian aircraft. Only this time it’s the entire Navy hanging in the balance.

…particularly at sea, vital military [er, naval] capabilities have been lost to rust out. We knew this was coming. Ships only last so long. But we did nothing, and are now scrambling to react to the perfectly predictable. This is hardly the prudent, sound management the Tories like to boast of.

Put simply, the “brave men and women in uniform,” to quote a favourite Conservative talking point, deserve better. So does the country.

But the country, and all political parties, insist on building vastly over-priced ships in Canada for Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

Absurdly Extravagant Cost of Canadian Navy, Coast Guard Ships

Much more:

RCN: Detailed Examination of National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy

The NSPS website is here.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


3 thoughts on “Mark Collins – The Incredible Shrinking RCN: National Post Nails Government”

  1. Good post at

    ‘…that is, in principle, what the New Canadian Shipbuilding Strategy is all about: it is an industrial support measure, not a shipbuilding strategy. It defines, in dollar terms, how much the government is willing to invest, over a finite period, to “revive” and (one hopes) sustain a Canadian shipbuilding industrial base … The fact that some warships and CCG vessels will be produced is coincidental. The government doesn’t really care, all that much, what comes out of those yards, as long as jobs are created and maintained. International trade rules allow exemptions to the normal, “open competition” rules for national security and defence and Canada, like most countries, sneaks its coast guard into that definition. (If we were funding an industrial support strategy to build, say, car ferries, we might find ourselves in international trade courts … on the losing end of the argument.)

    The “trick,” now, from the perspective of some very senior civil servants, is: how to sustain and/or maintain that industrial (shipbuilding) capability so that, eventually, it can sustain itself? The goal should be to require the RCN and the CCG to develop (and fund) long term “fleet renewal” (shipbuilding) programmes covering, say, 40 to 50 years! But it is hard (impossible?) for government departments, much less the whole of government, to make and manage real, long term “growth” plans.’,90990.msg1379233.html#msg1379233

    Mark Collins

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