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Canada's Shipbuilding Industry

Regarding the July 31 Canadian Press article titled "Senator: Shipbuilding strategy needs long-term contracts": The proposal by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny to establish regional shipbuilding monopolies through long-term government contracts and create a new federal bureaucracy to regulate the industry is dangerously misguided. These measures would essentially nationalize the shipbuilding industry, ending competition, stifling innovation, raising the prices taxpayers must pay for navy and coast guard vessels, and generating more red tape.

Senator Kenny says the Conservative government should take these measures to ensure that its plans to procure new ships actually reach completion. The article states, "The current government cannot guarantee that its plans won't be modified or even cancelled by future administrations, Kenny warned." Senator Kenny makes an excellent point, and his warning should be heeded by Canadians.

The likelihood that the Liberals will cancel military procurements is a strong argument against electing a Liberal government, but it is no argument for the measures Senator Kenny proposes. The Liberals are not shy about slashing military equipment purchases, even if it means breaking signed contracts at great expense to taxpayers.

The last time a new Liberal government took office, it immediately broke a contract signed by the previous Conservative government to purchase replacements for the navy's aging Sea King helicopters. Cancelling that contract cost taxpayers $500 million in penalties.

The Liberals then slashed military funding by a quarter throughout the mid-1990s, with devastating results for the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian Forces. When the Conservatives took office, the Liberals were in the process of eliminating the army's entire fleet of tanks - a plan that would have been disastrous for the troops serving in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the new Conservative government reversed that decision and acquired a fleet of new tanks. It is the Conservative government's policy and plan to provide the Canadian Forces, Canadian Coast Guard and other security agencies of this country with the equipment they need to keep Canada strong and safe. This includes a fleet of versatile Arctic/offshore patrol vessels and new joint supply ships for the navy and a powerful new Arctic icebreaker for the coast guard. These purchases will create enormous side benefits for the shipbuilding industry. The government also recently announced a massive investment in armoured vehicles for the army.

If Canadians want these vital projects to go ahead, they should heed Senator Kenny's warning about his own party's likelihood to cancel such procurements, and keep the Conservative government in office.

Conservative Senator David Tkachuk is a member of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.