Shipbuilders call for federal strategy overhaul to avoid an ’embarrassment’

By , on February 17, 2016


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OTTAWA—The Shipbuilding Association of Canada is hoping the Liberal government will change course when it comes to the renewal of the country’s navy and civilian fleets.

The industry group said Wednesday that the current strategy, laid out in the former Harper government’s national shipbuilding program, is not working and has led to “unaffordable and untenable” renewal programs.

It also wants to see the overall marquee strategy reopened “to include any Canadian shipyard capable of delivering ships to the program.”

“Given the age profile of our fleet and corresponding potential safety issues for our brave men and women, there is no time for delay,” the association said in a statement.

Documents leaked to The Canadian Press show that the Liberal cabinet will be asked to put more money into the coast guard’s $144-million offshore oceanographic science vessel project in order to build the long-awaited ship.

Costs for a separate program to build three fisheries science vessels have soared by 181 per cent to almost $700 million.

The Liberals have also been warned that the navy’s frigate replacements are going to cost substantially more than the $26 billion that was earmarked eight years ago.

The association said that before the shipbuilding strategy was finalized in 2010, it tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Conservative government to adopt a looser model, rather than designating just two yards to build both the combat and non-combat fleets.

“It provided a logical and common-sense approach as to how Canada could obtain the ships it needs at a competitive cost, within the time frames required by the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard,” said a report, released Wednesday.

The Conservatives opted for Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax and Vancouver’s Seaspan yard as its go-to companies.

A spokeswoman for Irving shipyard, Mary Keith, said late Wednesday that the company has not been part of the association for many years and that the group in no “way speaks for, or is representative of ISI’s interests.”

She also dismissed the report as representing a “minority opinion” within the industry.

Although initially praised, the strategy has yet to produce a single ship—and the association says those delays are driving up costs to the point where entire programs are on the line.

“Only competition will drive value-for-money for Canadian taxpayers,” the association said.

The group’s position puts the Trudeau government in a bit of a bind: the shipbuilding strategy was one of the few Conservative-era policies the Liberals chose to endorse.

Nonetheless, a select cabinet committee is said to be reviewing the program in light of the soaring costs.

The association says the Conservative strategy is “non-binding” and should be jettisoned “before the program becomes an embarrassment to Canada and its shipbuilding industry.”