Informing Canadians

By Dan Middlemiss, 1 September 2023

Several interesting questions about different aspects of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) and its programs have arisen in recent threads in this Broadsides Forum, and the answers have been either contentious or difficult to resolve on the basis of current information.

These prompted me to ponder what information Canadians should have a reasonable right to receive about the NSS and its associated procurement programs: what? from whom, and how frequently? In addition, we could ask how well Canada fares in this regard when compared to other western states with similar shipbuilding strategies. The United Kingdom and Australia immediately spring to mind, but we could also include the United States for the sake of comparison.

I have been trying to stay current with the latest developments in our NSS, and I have also spent a great deal of time over the years researching several of Canada’s previous major naval procurement programs. But as our readers know, information is often hard to come by, and close attention to government announcements and reports, academic and industry studies, journal articles, media reports, and for some of us, even a resort to Access to Information requests are required in attempt for us to keep up, and even then it is a struggle to make sense of the results.

So, my question to this Forum is the following: if you could have your top questions answered about the NSS and its programs, what would they be? Who do you think should be the appropriate source to provide the answers?

To provide some examples of what I mean, here are a few of my top choices.

1. Is the current NSS approach sustainable in the long term? What is meant by sustainable and what conditions have to apply for the NSS to be successful? (Sufficient domestic demand? Supplementary export orders? Continued government funding and other support?) In my opinion, this question should have been rigorously investigated by a reputable, independent, third party organization like the RAND Corporation before the NSS was announced. Australia and the United Kingdom have done so via RAND studies, augmented by parliamentary hearings and reports, and by other third party reports.

2. What was the government’s reasoning for its quick about-face on its stated policy in June 2016 to seek a mature and existing design for the CSC? The answer to this could shed light on Canadian defence industry lobbying, but would probably have to rely on media interviews because of cabinet confidentiality rules.

3. How much, and in what ways, has the RCN changed its design requirements for the CSC since the basic design competition ended and LMC was selected in October 2018?

4. When the CSC contract is finally signed, what is the government’s best estimate of the full costs and anticipated delivery schedule for the total number of ships to be procured? Other states’ governments have provided this type of information and have updated that information fairly regularly. I hope Canada will as well.

5. On how many occasions has the federal cabinet been briefed by DND and Public Services and Procurement Canada on the cost, quantity, and scheduled delivery details of the CSC? In my experience, given cabinet secrecy conventions, this type of information probably could only be obtained via Access to Information requests, and these can be costly and usually entail significant time delays. This might seem like a trivial question, but in researching past major warship procurements, I have been struck by just how seldom such important matters come before the full cabinet for discussion and ultimately decisions. Indeed, during the DDH-280 class procurement process, oftentimes the DND minister and even the senior officers of the RCN were being provided with only partial (or misleading) information, while at other times they had crucial material withheld from them. When billions of dollars and careers are at stake, history has demonstrated that political and bureaucratic games abound. Therefore, this type of information might help to  reassure Canadians that our political leaders were being kept informed about progress of the NSS and its relevant programs in an open and transparent manner.

6. Finally, the real core issue is: do Canadians really care one way or the other? Ottawa appears to think not, and I can point you to recent comments by very senior retired DND types who lament that they think not as well. Perhaps in the end, our PM, government leaders, and Canadians themselves share this sentiment, namely they expect the United States to defend Canada in a pinch in any case, but do not want to admit that out loud.

I am sure that Forum readers will have different questions that they would like answered, so please weigh in.


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