Politics

Quebec shipyard is setting up an Arctic icebreaking research centre

A Quebec shipyard in line to be the federal government's icebreaker-builder says it intends to establish a centre of excellence that will envision the innovation needed to restore Canada as a world-leader in Arctic operations.

Centre to serve as hub for innovation in Canadian Arctic, Davie Shipyard executive says

Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen is seen in Allen Bay in August 2010. The Quebec shipbuilding company behind a new national centre studying Arctic icebreaking says it hopes to produce the kind of innovation needed to restore Canada as a world-leader in Arctic operations. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Describing itself as Canada's polar partner, the Chantier Davie Shipyard in Quebec plans to announce the creation of a national centre on Tuesday focusing on icebreaking in the country's Arctic.

It is, according to a senior executive at the Levis, Que., company, more than just an engineering centre and will encompass the climatic, economic and social factors that will drive the region for the next 30 years and beyond.

"It is a bigger discussion," said Spencer Fraser, the director of business development for the Inosea Group of Companies, which owns the shipyard. "It's not just around icebreaking and shipbuilding in Canada."

The Arctic icebreaking centre is intended to bring together community and business leaders as well as scientists and engineers — from both northern and southern Canada — in a conference later this year.

Shaping the Arctic economy of the 21st century

They'll be asked to envision and debate what kind of ships and infrastructure are needed to drive future economic and social development in Canada's Arctic, which is being transformed by climate change and shifting geopolitics.

"We're getting together to ask: In 2050, the North is going to look like this, what do we want the economy to look like? And what do we need to do today to get the wheels in motion so we can achieve that?" Fraser told CBC News.

More than that, he said, the centre is intended to be a place of ongoing dialogue that will hopefully produce the kind of innovation needed to restore Canada as a world-leader in Arctic operations.

By tapping into a wide range of expertise, he said the Chantier Davie initiative intends to showcase Canadian Arctic ingenuity on the world stage, which has for the last 20 years been dominated by Finland and Norway.

The CCGS Molly Kool, a Coast Guard icebreaker, was converted at Chantier Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que. (Canadian Coast Guard)

The company, which is on track to be the federal government's third go-to shipyard under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, intends to carve out a place as the country's premier icebreaker-builder.

The other two strategic shipbuilding partners are Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, which concentrates on the construction of warships, and Vancouver's Seaspan, which is building fisheries science vessels and naval support ships. 

Chantier Davie was given a federal contract worth up to $827 million to convert three existing commercial icebreakers for use by the Canadian Coast Guard. 

The first vessel — CCGS Captain Molly Kool — was delivered, but the other two — CCGS Jean Goodwill and CCGS Vincent Massey — have been delayed, the Fisheries Department recently told The Canadian Press.

The federal government wants to see its third strategic yard concentrate on building icebreakers and intends to funnel the construction of six ships to the company in the coming year.

Concurrently, it has asked the wider shipbuilding industry to build a case for the construction of heavy icebreakers in the Far North.

Centre should focus on changes facing the Arctic: expert

Rob Huebert, a professor at the University of Calgary and an Arctic expert, said an icebreaking centre of excellence is a novel and important idea.

He said the country was, until the 1980s, a world leader in the field, but interest and investment waned after Far North oil and natural gas development plans were shelved. 

However, he said it needs to be more than just window-dressing and a business vehicle for Chantier Davie.

"If they're being serious, they'll not just be focused on their product," Huebert said.

"If it is just simply, 'look at what good icebreakers we have and look at how we can provide work' then that, in my mind, will really be just a PR exercise."

What the centre needs to do is go beyond what one company or another produces and focus on how the changing Arctic will be affected by a myriad of circumstances and conditions and the technology Canada will need to address them, he added.

Climate change and shifting geopolitical rivalries are but two examples.

The Trump Administration recently appointed a career diplomat to become the country's first Arctic co-ordinator — a sign that the country is taking the region more seriously

The U.S. Air Force also recently published an Arctic strategy intended to counter Russia and China's growing influence and ambitions in the region.

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now