Canada’s most ambitious procurement plan, since shortly after the Second World War, is in peril like so many other procurement projects – past and present. The National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) is heading towards disaster and the Liberal government is unable to provide the course correction. Seven years ago, the NSS was unveiled by the Harper government and was expected to come to a final conclusion in 2041. Its announcement was proclaimed with admiration from all sides. But this also meant that the fate of the NSS was to entrusted in the hands of multiple successive governments and that the future of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) would rest on project responsibility. The unfortunate reality of politics is that the Liberals, as the standing government, cannot concede that they are mishandling an ill-fated project and the Conservatives, the official opposition, cannot concede that the project was already ill-fated under their rule as governing party. This means that there is a political stalemate as neither party wants to admit anything – a mutual detente that will only damage the CCG and RCN. The unfortunate truth is that the NSS has been stalled, and that the costing was not adjusted for these delays and so the quality and quantity of the ships have already been downgraded. This, also, has led to gaps in the build schedule and the prospect of shipbuilding jobs being lost. The very same jobs that the NSS would fated to save and revitalize the industry.
The good news is that the NSS is still in its formative years and the situation has changed. However, the situation changed because it was already seen as dire. The RCN’s supply ships were rightfully decommissioned, but without a backup plan the RCN has been relying on renting out the Chilean supply ship, the Almirante Montt, for the past two years. The RCN was caught without a a backup plan as the construction of the Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment Ship replacement has yet to begun at the Seaspan shipyard in Vancouver – a project that was launched in 2004, but then was put under the auspices of the NSS. Nor has any construction work on the single Polar-Class heavy icebreaker, which the delivery is now being estimated to be in 2030. That being said, Canada’s medium-sized icebreakers were commissioned between 1978 and 1987 and there are no plans to replace them, even though they already need to be replaced. An essential requirement as the Canadian government continues to espouse the importance of the Arctic and the possibility of the opening of the North West Passage.