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Take the navy’s last functioning supply ship, the Protecteur. After 46 years of service ferrying fuel, food and water to the fleet, the old ship was already something of a wreck when the engine room caught fire off Hawaii in February 2014. It was a sorry end to a long career: adrift and alone in the ocean, then towed to port to be chopped up for scrap.
That left the Royal Canadian Navy with no supply ships at all. To grasp how ignominious that is, consider what it really means: the navy can sail out to sea but can’t sail back — not without help from its allies. Any ship running short of fuel needs to beg and borrow from friends and that is what the navy has been doing, routinely, ever since the Protecteur flamed out.
“If you do not address the capability gap,” he said, “you will actually end up losing a capability. And that’s exactly what’s happened with our navy right now. Right now, we require Spain and Chile to assist with the re-supplying, because we don’t have ships right now to re-supply us.”
No disrespect to the fine Spanish and Chilean navies, but it’s not an inspiring picture for Canada — a nation with the world’s longest coastline. And the gap is not being filled. With three oceans to patrol and supply, Canada is now working on … just one new supply ship.
OK, it’s not really new at all, it’s a second-hand freighter, being refitted in a hurry as an “interim” supply ship.
Another two new ones are certainly planned. There’s no shortage of plans. But those two ships are to be built by Seaspan in Vancouver under the Conservatives’ National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, which continues under the Liberals. Six years after the NSPS was announced — and 2½ years after the Protecteur burned — the building of the two supply ships has not even started. So Canada will be begging and borrowing on the high seas for quite a while.
If so, that means a solution is urgent, right?
Wrong. Apparently, it’s not that urgent at all. Sajjan refused to say when he might have a solution. First, he will listen. He will consult. He’s done seven consultation sessions so far, building on the studies done by the Harper government, which produced an experts’ report in December of 2014.
The problem is that it has to be one or the other. If you rule out the F-35, your competition is not open. So the question to be answered is not just which planes to buy, but which promise to break.