Justin Trudeau makes Coast Guard fleet refresh 'top priority'

In a letter to his minister of fisheries, oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, Justin Trudeau highlighted the need to ensure the country's naval procurement plan is followed, days before the Paris attacks.

$40-billion National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy has yet to produce a vessel

Seaspan Shipyards in North Vancouver will provide three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels as part of the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy. (Seaspan)

Justin Trudeau has placed a refresh of the Canadian Coast Guard fleet among his cabinet's top priorities, according to his mandate letter to Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Hunter Tootoo.

The letter, sent before the Paris attacks, advises Tootoo to work with Minister of Public Services and Procurement Judy Foote to "Meet the commitments that were made for new Coast Guard vessels as part of the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy."

"I think everybody's aligned," says John Wilkinson, Liberal MP for North Vancouver, where one of the two primary shipbuilders tapped as part of the plan is located. "We obviously want to see these ships built and out doing the work that they need to do."

The $38.6-billion set aside by Steven Harper's Conservatives for the procurement strategy made it one of the largest capital projects ever announced by the Canadian government.

Canadian Coast Guard ships like this one are expected to be joined over the next two to three years by vessels built under the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

But in the five years since the plan was enacted, it has yet to produce a vessel, whether purchased or constructed.

​The first ship to begin assembly is an offshore fisheries science vessel, being built by Seaspan Shipyards.

CCGS Sir John Franklin began construction at Seaspan's North Vancouver shipyard in June 2015, more than half a decade after the procurement strategy's announcement.

Construction delays

"It's a pretty significant scale-up for Seaspan to make sure that they actually have all of the relevant equipment in place, all of the relevant skills in place. My understanding at this point is that they're ready to go," said Wilkinson.

Seaspan is slated to deliver three OFSVs in total, they expect "before the end of 2017," according to a press release.

Though progress on ships themselves has been slow, the government did spend $500-million over that five year gap to upgrade both Seaspan and Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, the other major shipbuilder included in the procurement strategy.

Irving is working on the other vessel currently being assembled as a result of the plan, an arctic offshore patrol ship. Work on that project began in early September. Completion is expected in 2018.

"The government wants to see these commitments fulfilled and fulfilled in a timely manner," said Wilkinson.

He feels Trudeau's prioritising of the project is a positive step forward.

"Ultimately it's good news for Canadians, because these ships are desperately needed."

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