Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships: Tory Plan Should Be Sunk, Senator Says
OTTAWA - At least $1.4 billion is expected to be carved out of spending at National Defence in the coming fiscal year, but a longtime critic says some politically-motivated programs should not survive Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget axe.
The coming March 29 budget is expected to see $19.8 billion set aside for the military, a seven per cent decrease compared with last year's defence spending plan, according to preliminary federal estimates.
And those forecasts do not reflect the five or 10 per cent reductions the Conservatives have asked all federal departments to deliver.
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, the former chair of the senate defence and security committee, said if the Harper government wants to make appropriate defence cuts it would look at its pet project of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.
The $4.3 billion program was established to build between six and eight light naval icebreakers — slated to be the first military vessels constructed in Halifax under the recently announced national shipbuilding plan.
Expected to be in the range of 6,000 tonnes each, the ships when completed around 2014-15 will operate in the Arctic for up to eight months a year.
"They're just a dumb idea," said Kenny. "They don't break ice and they go 16 knots and that's slower than a fishing boat."
The Arctic ships are the compromise result of the 2006 Conservative election promise to build military icebreakers to enforce Canada's Arctic sovereignty. Initially, the plan was to build three heavily-armed ships capable of cutting through multi-year ice.
A series of budget and design adjustments turned the project into lightly-armed ships that break through only one-year-old ice, a fact which has prompted critics to label them "slush breakers."
Kenny said, with budget reductions underway, the money would be better spent fast-tracking the replacement of the country's nearly 40-year-old flagship command destroyers, as the Navy intended to do before the government saddled it with the Arctic ships.
A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay declined to comment on the senator's arguments Wednesday.
A spokesman for Julian Fantino, the associate defence minister, said the patrol ships are a key element of not only the government's Arctic strategy, but for the economy.
"Our strategy will result in the creation of thousands of new jobs and billions in economic growth in cities and communities across Canada," said Chris McCluskey in an emailed response.
"This job-creating investment will improve the stability of Canada’s shipbuilding industry, and provide vital equipment for our men and women in uniform."
The commander of the Royal Canadian Navy said in a recent interview the flagship destroyers will operate as long as they are needed, but documents released under access to information laws show the Navy is facing a crunch in the availability of ships in the coming years.
Not replacing the Iroquois class warships soon imperils the Navy's ability to put Canadian task forces to sea, meaning the country's naval contingents would have to be commanded by other nations.
Finding crews for the Arctic ships is also straining already thin ranks.
"The Navy has reduced in size," said the Navy's 2010 strategic assessment, which was released late last year. "There is now a steadily increasing strategic risk to both our operational output in the coming years as well as the Navy's institutional capabilities.
"In the next five years, the personnel demands associated with the introduction and sustainment of (Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships), the Orca class and modest Maritime Security requirements necessitate an increase in the Navy's overall establishment."
Kenny says there is a need to show the flag in the Arctic.
"The government could get the same political bang by putting money into a (coast guard) icebreaker or two, and that would actually be something useful for sovereignty," he said.
Research done by Kenny's office shows that the coast guard could get between three and four heavy icebreakers for the amount of money being put into the patrol ships.
Testifying before the all-party House of Commons defence committee earlier this week, MacKay acknowledged that the end of the war in Afghanistan means an era of "belt tightening" has arrived in his department.
"We also recognize our responsibility to carefully manage public funds and to contribute to the overall fiscal health of the entire government and to be responsible to taxpayers," he said.
"We are taking the opportunity to examine our structure and our processes, and to integrate that which we have learned in Afghanistan to streamline operations, to make the Canadian Forces more efficient and effective, and so we get the greatest overall effort from Canada and the greatest benefits for Canadian taxpayers."
The budget estimate does give the military an operating bump of $333 million, but that increase is offset by reductions in other expenses.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version wrongly identified the associate defence minister's spokesman
Highlights Of The 2011 Census
Here are some highlights from the 2011 Canadian Census. With files from <em>The Canadian Press</em>. (AFP/Getty Images)
As of May 2011, 33,476,688 people were enumerated in Canada, nearly twice as many as in 1961 and 10 times the number in 1861. (Alamy)
Population Growth Speeds Up
Canada's population grew by 5.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, up slightly from 5.4 per cent during the previous five years. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jtbradford/" target="_hplink">Flickr: jtbradford</a>)
For the first time, more people in Canada live west of Ontario (30.7 per cent) than in Quebec and Atlantic Canada combined (30.6 per cent). (Flickr: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/derekgavey/" target="_hplink">derekGavey</a>)
We're Number One
Canada's population growth between 2006 and 2011 was the highest among G8 countries. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/33498942@N04/" target="_hplink">Flickr: WarmSleepy</a>)
Exceptions To The Rule
Every province and most territories saw their population increase between 2006 and 2011; the rate of growth increased everywhere except in Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. (AP)
The growth rate in Ontario declined to 5.7 per cent, its lowest level since the early 1980s. (Alamy)
Saskatchewan Out Of The Red
Population growth in Saskatchewan hit 6.7 per cent, compared with a negative growth rate of 1.1 per cent between 2001 and 2006; the province welcomed more than 28,000 immigrants during the latest census period, nearly three times the number of the previous five-year period. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/justaprairieboy/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Just a Prairie Boy</a>)
Yukon And Manitoba Take Off
The rate of growth in both Yukon (11.6 per cent) and Manitoba (5.2 per cent) has doubled since 2006. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/us_mission_canada/" target="_hplink">Flickr: US Mission Canada</a>)
The East Is Growing Too
The rate of growth in Prince Edward Island (3.2 per cent), New Brunswick (2.9 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (1.8 per cent) has increased substantially between 2006 and 2011. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jw1697/" target="_hplink">Flickr JaimeW</a>)
Nearly seven of every 10 Canadians lived in one of Canada's 33 main urban centres in 2011. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/markwoodbury" target="_hplink">Flickr mark.woodbury</a>)
.. Except Not In Ontario..
The rate of population growth in almost all census metropolitan areas located in Ontario slowed between 2006 and 2011. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/husseinabdallah/" target="_hplink">Flickr abdallahh</a>)
Maybe Because Everyone Moved To Alberta
Of the 15 Canadian communities with the highest rates of growth, 10 were located in Alberta. (AFP/Getty Images)