Give new icebreakers to the coast guard

Neil Reynolds, in his column "Bring back the mighty ship Labrador" (Feb. 14), writes that "Canada could very quickly deploy heavy Arctic icebreakers that function simultaneously as armed naval patrol vessels." But there is no national or military need for navy icebreakers.

As Mr Reynolds notes, the Canadian navy has not operated an icebreaker since the 1950s. Since then the Canadian Coast Guard has had Canada's icebreaking fleet. Current icebreakers are getting very long in the tooth and will need replacement soon. The Auditor General's report released February 13 confirms the Coast Guard's desperate need for new vessels.

The sensible thing to do would be to acquire truly arctic-capable vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard. The coast guard, even though not armed, would be perfectly adequate by its presence to assert Canadian legal claims in arctic waters. If necessary its icebreakers could act as a platform for armed Department of Fishery officers, the RCMP, or troops.

Moreover assigning the icebreakers to the coast guard would avoid the inevitable delays, complications and extra costs involved in the navy's re-learning very specialized operational skills. Besides which the coast guard can use such vessels for the varied other missions its icebreakers already perform in the north, off the east and west coasts, and in the St. Lawrence River. These are civilian missions; there is no reason for the navy to take them on and I doubt it would want to.

If arctic-capable icebreakers are not also used for the full spectrum of Canadian icebreaking operations then the ships would be severely under-utilized and a great deal of money wasted.