Made in Canada?
In the next 30 years, the federal government will oversee the spending of $30-40 billion dollars through the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) to build both combat and non-combat vessels for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard.
As the largest government procurement contract since World War II, this initiative will lay the groundwork for Canada to strengthen and revitalize its shipbuilding and marine industries and it will position us to again become a global leader.
These ship contracts, if managed properly, can bring decades of work to the chosen shipyards along with massive economic spins-offs to business and industries across Canada and growth in regional and provincial economies.
Yet details remain scant about how involved Canadian companies will be in regards to vessel design and manufacturing of the ship components. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Irving Shipyard in Halifax and Vancouver Shipyards in January to sign agreements in principle, he acknowledged that many more decisions need to made with regards to vessel design and specifications. “It is always our government’s aim to reduce costs, but there will be Canadian design components involved in all of this,” he said.
As the Official Opposition Critic for Shipbuilding, we want to ensure that Canada’s shipbuilding and marine industry will be involved in every aspect of this procurement project, including design, engineering, manufacturing and building the vessels from stem to stern. Every component of these vessels, where possible, should be designed or manufactured in Canada, including the overall vessel design, electrical work, computer and weapon systems, and steel production.
According to a recent article by Peter Morton in the Chronicle Herald, industry insiders have estimated that as much as 60 percent of the ships’ materials may not be “made in Canada.” What we fear is that offshore suppliers from the United States or Europe or China may manufacture the bulk of the ships’ components or design the vessels; components will be purchased “off-the-shelf” for “assembly in Canada” at the chosen shipyards.
With a project of this magnitude and a cost to taxpayers of $30-$40 billion dollars, we must insist that Canadians receive the maximum value for their tax dollars. Without a strong domestic marine manufacturing or supplier base, Canada will miss this golden opportunity to become a global leader in the shipbuilding industry.
As I have pointed out many times before, if Canada was willing to heavily invest in the aerospace and auto manufacturing sectors at every level, then Canada can do the same for our shipbuilding and marine industry.
As a case in point, last year we learned that the government was in discussion with the United Kingdom about the possibility of collaborating on a new Global Combat Ship program to replace both the Royal Navy’s frigate fleet and the Canadian Navy’s destroyers. Discussions were underway as to whether Canada could modify the hull design of the U.K.’s Type 26 Global Combat Ship to “accommodate the equipment and additional personnel requirements” for the replacement of Canadian vessels.
After facing an outcry from stakeholders in the shipbuilding industry, the government scuttled these plans to collaborate with Britain. While I insisted the government state clearly that “all” vessels under the NSPS be built and designed in Canada, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose only went so far to say that the government was committed to “procure” all of our ships here in Canada.
Much to my dismay, that same week the government issued a tender to hire consultants to adapt German and Spanish military supply ship designs for the Navy’s replacement supply vessels. It is unimaginable that the government would consider adapting foreign vessel designs when the Navy has spent considerable time developing its own design plans for the replenishment supply vessels.
As one of the shipyard union representatives said to me, “Why can’t the government be forthcoming with the shipbuilding industry about talks with other countries? Designing and building ships in Canada is something we should be proud of.”
Evidence shows that there is strong public support for “made in Canada” military vessels. Last year, a poll commissioned by DND on military procurement (obtained by the Canadian Press) showed that two-thirds of Canadians supported the government in purchasing its military equipment in Canada – even if it meant higher purchasing costs. This tells us that Canadians recognize the value of spending their tax dollars on projects that create economic spinoffs and benefits for Canadian business, suppliers and manufacturers, as well as the strategic importance for Canada to build its own vessels for our nation’s sovereignty needs.
As more details become available on vessel specifications in the coming months, I will continue to advocate that we need to make these ships as Canadian as possible.
Peter Stoffer is the New Democrat critic for shipbuilding. He was a founding member and Chair of the Parliamentary Shipbuilding and Marine Caucus.