Nova Scotia

Irving Shipbuilding denies warship order scaled back

Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax is denying a report out of Ottawa that the federal government is scaling back its order for Arctic offshore patrol ships from six vessels to five.

Possibility of smaller contract doesn't surprise Atlantic defence contractor IMP Group

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.

Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax is denying a report out of Ottawa that the federal government is scaling back its order for Arctic offshore patrol ships from six vessels to five.

"We have received no changes from our customer regarding our current work on AOPS or on the long range planning we're doing on the program," Kevin McCoy, the president of Irving Shipbuilding, said in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, The Canadian Press cited anonymous sources as saying the federal government was scaling back to save money. Irving Shipbuilding will get a firm order for five arctic ships with an option for a sixth, the report said.

Speaking last week, McCoy told reporters, "The contract will be for six ships. Minimum of six ships."

The Irving statement reiterated that on Tuesday.

IMP weighs in

The prospect that Ottawa's much hyped $35-billion national shipbuilding procurement strategy is starting to "slide" comes as no surprise to one of Atlantic Canada's biggest defence contractors, Ken Rowe, the executive chairman of IMP Group International.

"Politicians are in business to get re-elected," Rowe told a group of business people and politicians at a fundraising breakfast on Tuesday.

"They like making popular, work-creating announcements. They sometimes find later they don't have the money to carry them out."

For decades, IMP Group International has provided maintenance for Canada's fleet of Aurora military aircraft from company facilities in Nova Scotia.

Rowe said Ottawa is likely trying to "re-jig" the ship procurement program.

"This is what's taking place, no doubt, as Prime Minister Harper is trying to balance his budget," he said Tuesday. "That's what happens as programs start to slide. Start to slide to the left, as we say."

History says downsizing likely

Ken Hansen with Dalhousie University's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, said speculation is premature given Irving Shipbuilding has yet to produce a test module.

"Once that's done they they will have cold, hard facts to turn around to the government to say, 'Here's what it's going to cost for a fixed capability. If you want more than that, it will cost more. If you want to tone that back it will cost comparatively less,'" he said.

Still, Hansen called military procurement in Canada a "very rocky" continuum where original promises are never fulfilled.

Defence expert Ken Hansen says speculation on the shipbuilding program is premature given Irving Shipbuilding has yet to produce a test module. (CBC)

"There's been all kinds of programs cancelled outright and virtually every other program has been reduced in number, if it wasn't cancelled," he said.

Hansen said the most intriguing aspect of The Canadian Press story was the suggestion that Quebec's Davie Shipyard, which was shut out the shipbuilding program three years ago, has edged back in.

Davie has offered to lease supply ships to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Hansen said it's a stop gap measure that appeals to the military.

"They are dealing with a crisis right now," he said. "The navy is falling apart. They need immediate help."

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