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Mike Blais

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Feds can’t say how many ships $2 billion will buy
« on: November 20, 2012, 07:52:50 AM »
 Feds can’t say how many ships $2 billion will buy
Monday, November 19, 2012
By Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — The federal government can’t say how many small ships it plans to buy with the last $2 billion of its $35-billion national shipbuilding strategy.

That may be normal. After all, the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, or NSPS, is a 30-year program intended to overhaul the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard fleets.

But if it is not normal, that is significant. The reason is that if there are any cost overruns or problems in other parts of the NSPS, it wouldn’t be farfetched to believe the money could be taken from the pot set aside for smaller vessels.

The revelation the government doesn’t know how many smaller vessels it plans to buy is contained in an order paper question filed by NDP military procurement critic Matthew Kellway only a week after Postmedia News reported in June that the NSPS was sailing into stormy waters.

For background, the NSPS is divided into three parts:

Public Works has confirmed that more than a year after Irving and Seaspan were selected as the main NSPS shipyards, there have not been any contracts tendered for the smaller vessels, which include large and small tugboats; search and rescue lifeboats; science vessels; and special nav-aid vessels.

In fact, Public Works was not able to say how many vessels would be built under the plan.

“The breakdown of the number of vessels is not available at this time,” Public Works told Kellway in response to his question.

Asked for further information, Public Works spokesman Sebastien Bois replied: “Most of the small ship projects are in early developmental stages and subject to project and funding approvals.”

Bois did add that consultations with industry on the large tugboat project are planned for later this fall.

While the small ships are needed, the remaining $2 billion was also seen as a salve to those shipyards not selected to do most of the work under the shipbuilding strategy, most notably Davie Shipbuilding in Levis, Quebec.

Yet there have been concerns within industry and the navy over whether the money set aside for Irving and Seaspan will buy the ships listed, especially as a combination of delays, increasing material costs and inflation shrink the actual pool available.

University of Ottawa military procurement expert Philippe Lagasse says it is always possible that the government will use the $2 billion to supplement the Arctic offshore patrol ships or other big shipbuilding programs.

But he says the smaller vessels are needed — and the shipyards that have been waiting to build the smaller vessels will be pressuring the federal government to stick with its original plan.

“It would be very short-sighted to cut into those capabilities,” Lagasse said in an email. “So my bet would be that they will keep the funding for smaller ships rather than diverting toward other programs.”

Smaller shipyards across the country are hoping he’s right.


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