There are two very useful article by Mark Collins on the Canadian Global Affairs Institute‘s 3Ds Blog:
- In the first article he explains that the Trudeau government has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking “input from the marine industry on options for filling potential interim needs in the Canadian Coast Guard’s delivery of icebreaking services pending the arrival of new vessels being built under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) … [and] … input on bringing the Coast Guard’s capacity to tow ocean-going vessels to world-class standing as part of efforts to strengthen its marine pollution response capability.“
- In the second article he explains how “a pair of unsolicited bids [were] dropped on the government by Quebec-based Chantier Davie Canada Inc., which was left out of the government’s strategy … [and] … The shipyard’s pitch — potentially worth up to $1.7 billion — was to either sell or lease icebreakers and multipurpose ships for the coast guard … [specifically] … It offered to build three smaller so-called River-class icebreakers, two multipurpose ships and a Polar Class icebreaker, which could be used for scientific research, border patrol and search and rescue. Some of the ships were being built for the offshore oil and gas sector, but the collapse in energy prices led to their cancellation.”
Davie, you may recall, was not included in the government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy because, when it was being developed, in 2010, it was not clear to anyone that Davie would even be in business by 2015. The strategy is not, really, about building ships: it is all about rebuilding the Canadian shipbuilding industry and the $38 Billion allocated is what the Conservative government of the day reckoned it could afford for that purpose. The ships have to be for the Navy and the Coast Guard because national security is the great gaping hole in international trade law through which one can sail an aircraft carrier. It would be illegal, under trade rules, to subsidize shipyards to build, say, super-tankers or cruise ships for the commercial market, but one can subsidize those yards to build warships and coast guard vessels. For its money the government hoped to get up to 38 vessels: 21 warships for $30 Billion and 17 non-combatant vessels for $ 8 Billion. The “up to” really matters because the primary aim of the projects was to rebuild some yards and then buy some ships from them.
Now Davie, which is, it seems, thriving under new (foreign) ownership (without anything in the way of major government subsidies) and which has, already re-entered the government (military) business arena with its Project Resolve, wants to get into head-to-head competition with its rivals that were included in the shipbuilding strategy by offering an interim fix for the icebreakers, for which the Coast Guard might face a 10 year (or longer) gap.
As Mark Collins explains, this is tied into a whole range of issues including the national Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, jobs (and votes) in Quebec, pipelines and the environment. It is another test of leadership for the Trudeau government.