There is an interesting and worrying article by Murray Brewster in CBC News that says that there is a “backroom dispute over intellectual property rights that’s been raging for over a year between ship designers and the Liberal government … [wherein] … Ship designers from France, Britain, Italy and the U.S., among others, are part of the Canadian competition … [and] … Some of the 12 bidders, particularly those with designs dependant on electronics developed in conjunction with their home governments, have balked at the amount of technical data being requested by the Canadian government.“
Mr Brewster explains that “Defence and procurement officials have insisted the information is necessary to maintain the new fleet in the decades to come … [but] … Part of the issue …[according to one defence analyst] … is the fact the nearly $60-billion Canadian program is being managed by an outside company, Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding … [and] … companies are concerned their data could be appropriated and used by Irving, or others in the industry, to come up with an entirely new warship design … [but] … Irving officials, speaking on background in the past, have dismissed that concern.“
The issue is of pressing interest now because “The U.S. navy is in the market for up to 20 patrol frigates in a multibillion-dollar program … [and] … Not only is the American program more lucrative, but Canada’s intellectual property demands could put it at a further disadvantage in the fight for international bidders … [because] … The Pentagon issued a request for information to the defence industry on July 10 for its new warship program. It proposes to open up competition to foreign designs in a manner similar to the Liberal government … [and, while] … both programs have very similar requirements … the Americans are moving more aggressively and want to begin construction on the first frigate in 2020 … [but] … The Canadian program, on the other hand, remains on schedule for the “early 2020s,” according to Public Works and Procurement Services Canada,” according to Murray Brewster’s report.
Further complicating the issues, CBC News says that “once the project’s database is established, the Canadian program will become a top target for Chinese, Russian and North Korean hackers, who would try to steal the information …[and] … the U.S. government would likely have significant security concerns about those companies participating in the Canadian program.” But, “A Public Works spokesperson dismissed [the] arguments, noting there are already roughly 100 ships being built in the U.S. … “We do not anticipate that the start of another [U.S. government] shipbuilding program will materially impact bidders’ interest in Canada’s CSC project,” Nicolas Boucher said in an email. “We do not anticipate that the number of bidders will be reduced” … [and] … He also defended Canada’s intellectual property demands … [saying] … “The issue of intellectual property has been the focus of considerable engagement with the 12 pre-qualified bidders” throughout the process … [and] … “The government is seeking the rights to use and maintain the [surface combatant] ships for the duration of their life. This includes owning the information that the government paid to develop during the design contract and to obtain a licence to use the pre-existing information which is required to design, build, train, operate, dispose and maintain the ships” … [and he explained that] … The companies bidding to supply the design and help with the construction of the Canadian warships have already spent millions of dollars to prepare for the competition and that could be incentive enough to stay in it.“
I’m not sure who is more (or less) correct: Mr Brewster’s “defence analyst” or Nicholas Boucher, the “Public Works spokesperson,” but this is more bad news about a programme that has already been controversial. I have explained, before, that the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, put in place by the previous (Conservative) Harper government was never, really, about ships: it was about finding a way to rebuild and sustain the Canadian shipbuilding industry without breaking international trade laws. A “tiger team” of senior bureaucrats selected Seaspan , in British Columba, and Irving, in Nova Scotia as the two yards that would receive most of the government support; later Davie, in Quebec, elbowed its way back into the government shipbuilding business with its innovate Project Resolve deal. But, no matter the original aim or the money, this, shipbuilding and maintaining a Navy is important for Canada and it behooves Minister Sajjan to tell Canadians that he, and his officials, have the situation in hand. It, equally, behooves the Conservative defence critic to hold Minister Sajjan’s political feet to the fire.
Thinking Conservatives must be free(er) traders.
Free(er) trading countries have a vital, strategic interest in keeping the sea lanes open for themselves and other trading nations.
The business of promoting and protecting the freedom of the seas and the freedom of navigation in international waters is one of the primary tasks of a navy and (relatively) rich, prosperous free(er) trading nations, like Canada, should have, and use, large, modern, powerful navies to keep the sea lanes free.