The department of Public Works has been unable to substantiate claims by parliamentary secretary Chris Alexander that the department gave the CBC details of the budget for designing a new fleet of Arctic offshore patrol ships.

The CBC had, in fact, received none of the details requested, and still hasn't.  

Alexander was responding in the House of Commons on Monday to a report by CBC News last Thursday, which found that the Canadian government is spending far more to design its new ships than other countries pay to both design and build them.

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This artist's rendition, provided by the Canadian government, shows the Arctic offshore patrol ship currently being designed and built by Irving Shipbuilding Inc. in Halifax. (Handout/CBC)

The government has not denied that, but has nevertheless accused the CBC of "misinformation."

Alexander told the House that "the shipbuilding secretariat provided all the costing and information related to the definition phase of the Arctic offshore patrol ships to CBC. Unfortunately, they chose to ignore it."

CBC News had asked the secretariat to provide details of the design contract, but officials said they were unable to do so.

Officials told CBC news in a statement that those figures were "still in discussion."

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After Alexander's comments, CBC News asked the government to provide the costing information he referred to.

On Tuesday, an official told CBC that the department was "working on" the request and asked, "Could you please indicate your deadline for those questions?"

Given a deadline of 3 p.m., the department waited until it passed before declaring that a reply was still not available and asking if it would still be of interest the following day.

When the CBC answered in the affirmative, Wednesday passed with no reply.

Mystery continues

The details requested from the outset are a breakdown of the $288 million contract announced by the government March 7 at Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax.

The announcement said the contract was to "complete the design" of the patrol ships, which are also to be built by Irving under a separate contract when the design is ready; $136 million of the $288 million was committed under a first phase, with the rest to come.

Irving has said that the contract is not a "design contract" because, in addition to design, it includes other elements.

However, it did not put a price on those elements or say how, if at all, they would change the fact that Canada will pay, just for design, more than other countries pay to build similar ships. 

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The KV Svalbard, an offshore patrol vessel belonging to the Norwegian Coast Guard, is the parent design for Canada's Arctic offshore patrol ships. It was built for about one-third of what Canada is paying just to design, not build, a similar ship. (Marcus Bengtsson/Wikipedia)

Like the government, Irving has not denied that this is the case.

In a statement following the CBC story, however, the government said 30 per cent of the $288 million is what it called "build preparation components."

No figures were provided to substantiate this estimate. However, if true, it means that more than $200 million of the contract is strictly for design work, as defined by the government.

That figure is more than double the cost of actually building the Norwegian ship upon which the Canadian design is based — the KV Svalbard was built for less than $100 million.

Denmark built two slightly smaller ships for a total of $105 million — that's for the pair — and Ireland is building two others for a total price of $125 million.

Other contract components don't explain cost

The "build preparation components" noted by the government following the CBC's report include a "test module" intended to test the design.

Experts consulted by the CBC estimated that would cost $5 million to $10 million. The government also noted that the contract provides for "long lead items" such as down payments on major components like engines.

A 10 per cent deposit on the first ship's engines would be about $2 million. It's not yet clear how many ships will be built, so it's difficult to estimate what the total value of such a deposit for all of the ships might be. However, the government's original intent was to build six to eight ships. 

Irving has called the CBC's price comparisons "apples and oranges," noting that the Norwegian vessel is not the same.

However, the government bought the Norwegian design as the basis for the Canadian one.  It also has more expensive swivelling engines, which Canada ruled out to save money.

Irving also noted that the Danish vessels are 61 metres long, while the Canadian version will be 98 metres. Irving did not mention, however, that Denmark got two of the ships for half the price budgeted for designing the Canadian one.