Friday, November 2, 2018

Now We Are Six

As children of a certain era will recall, A.A.Milne's collection of poems for young readers was entitled "Now We Are Six".Today the minister of defence read from a sort of juvenile script - meant to reassure Halifax shipyard workers that all is right in the world and there is nothing to fear.

He managed not to sound embarrassed to announce that Halifax Shipyard will be building a sixth Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS). He sounded very complimentary to Halifax's shipbuilders, and promised them that there would now be continuity between completion of the AOPS work and the start of the frigate replacement program. Six AOPS had always been planned, but only five were contracted, with the sixth held out as a plum for good behaviour. Now that they have been good little boys and girls (and not messed up any welding) they are being rewarded with something that they had already earned and are entitled to.

As paternalism goes, this has to be one of the most blatant sops that government has made in recent memory.

In exchange for giving away millions of dollars of refit work to the existing Halifax class frigates, the government got off cheap, and relatively unscathed - so far. The timely start up of the new frigate program is hardly certain, and if it is delayed at all, then the promised continuity will be lost.

The recent announcement that half of those Halifax class life extension upgrades would go to Davie, a shipyard with no naval experience in recent memory - was totally political. Just because Halifax shipyard currently has only one drydock does not mean that a way can't be found to refit two frigates at once. But that was the excuse given for the giveaway. Instead, why not give Davie the job of building a new floating dock for Halifax. [This was how the late lamented Novadock came to be built mostly in Sorel and partly in Pictou - not for Halifax Shipyard, but for the Province of Nova Scotia. That floating dock was sold out from under our noses, and maybe Irving Shipbuilding's nose is being tweaked for that.] Davie benefits from a federally owned graving dock, so maybe a federally owned floating dock for Halifax is not a bad idea.

So spreading the soft SOAP (AOPS re-arranged) fell to the Minister, and he may have pacified some objectors. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how Davie can be expected to survive on handouts, and maintain any consistent level of expertise if the only work it can find comes as political crumbs. Davie risks becoming a chronic welfare case, always having to beg and never satisfied with what they are getting. They will always be playing the political card and will always drain off work from Halifax to get it. It remains to be seen if the refit work will give Davie sufficient expertise to force themselves in on the frigate construction.

It is virtually impossible to form a federal government in Canada without a majority in Quebec as any politician knows, but rather than be so blatantly political, surely their skills could be put to work in finding other work that Davie can do and provide them with some bankable expertise. I can think of no better way than to make them the go to yard for new conversion, rebuild and new construction for the Coast Guard.


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