About 10 years ago, when the national shipbuilding procurement strategy was announced, by the (Conservative) Harper government, there was much discussion about how many ships, what kind of ships and how much money ~ I seem to recall that the government of the day low-balled the costs at $35 Billion, the current Parliamentary Budget Officer says $70 Billion for warships alone … I suspect that a good guesstimate for all the ships (Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy) over their complete lifecycle, not just 25 years, is something like $150 Billion.
Is anything really worth that?
Do we really need “Cadillac” ships, as Jean Chrétien described the Mulroney Conservative‘s choice of a replacement for the even then ageing Sea King helicopters back in 1997?
Are we getting “Cadillac” ships?
The answers are Yes, No and No.
This video, made by Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver, explains what the national shipbuilding strategy is really all about. The ships, whether Coast Guard vessels or warships, are incidental to the strategy’s real aim which was, and remains, to rebuild a competitive shipbuilding industry in Canada. The goal always was “jobs! Jobs!! JOBS!!!” for Canadians.
Canada has the longest coastline in the world; Canada needs government fleets ~ more than just a Navy ~ to defend our coast, assert our sovereignty and maintain navigation for peaceful users; the ships are worth the price. We need warships, icebreakers, supply ships and research vessels, and, and, and … it is money well spent, and it creates good, Canadian, jobs.
The ships being built are good, but not “super-ships.” The Type 26 combat ships, for example, are anything but “Cadillacs.” They were designed and will be built after many, many compromises between what the sailors wanted and what the budgeteers said we can afford. There is an old saying in military procurement circles that I think is reflected in the Type 26 ships: the very best is the bitter enemy of the good enough. In many projects that run over budget we have seen, over and over again, that 20% of the final budget is consumed to get the last 5% of performance … and we really only needed 97%, not 100%.
The national shipbuilding strategy is not about ships, it is about rebuilding an important, indeed strategically essential Canadian maritime industrial base that was allowed to rot away by successive governments, Conservative and Liberal.
So, good for Stephen Harper for initiating and implementing that national shipbuilding strategy and good for Justin Trudeau for not messing it up. But, as with our new Search and Rescue Aircraft (about which I commented yesterday) Canadians owe the good news to Prime Minister Harper’s strategic vision and political acumen. It was Conservatives who planned this … those good jobs are there because of a Consevative programme. Thank you Mr Harper.