Helena Jaczek, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), appeared alongside St. John’s East member of Parliament Joanne Thompson and Churence Rogers, the MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity in St. John’s on May 25 to announce $2.5 billion in funding to procure up to 61 vessels to renew the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) small vessel fleet.

Beyond renewing the CCG fleet, these funds will go towards strengthening Canada’s shipbuilding industry and creating jobs by allowing shipyards to apply for construction contracts for the building of the new vessels, stated the federal government officials.

Among the vessels required by the CCG are six mid-shore multi-mission vessels, one near-shore fishery research vessel and 34 Cape-Class search and rescue lifeboats.

“The National Shipbuilding Strategy is our government’s plan to renew Canada’s fleet of vessels of both Navy and Coast Guard and to revitalize Canada’s marine industry,” said Thompson outside the CCG headquarters in St. John’s.

“This will bring economic benefit to Canadians and Canadian companies, including small and medium-sized businesses throughout Atlantic Canada.”

The contracts for these vessels, according to Jaczek, will be set aside for smaller operations throughout Canada, with larger shipyards unable to take part.

“The work for these vessels will be open to all shipyards in Canada, with the exception of the three large vessel partners under the National Shipbuilding Strategy,” said Jaczek. “This will ensure that small and medium-sized shipyards can participate.”

As far as who is winning these contracts, and how many will be in Atlantic Canada, Jaczek can’t say in the preliminary stages of this project.

“It will depend on who steps up and what their proposals are and we’ll look at those very closely of course,” said Jaczek.

“As the procurement agency of government, we have to look at value for the taxpayer, obviously, and excellent quality and meeting the specifications that are required.”

The timeline for the completion of these boats is by 2040, which is set to avoid the common boom and bust cycles that come with some shipbuilding projects. The government hopes that this deadline will allow for steady work in the industry for years to come.

“That sounds like a long way off, but the whole idea is to maintain some of the aging fleet for as long as we can but then be in this constant ability to replace. It hasn’t really been done that way before, it’s sort of wait until they are all aged out and then do a massive buying spree. That’s not what we’re doing — we’re trying to even out that boom and bust type of situation that has occurred in the past,” said Jaczek.

Concerns have been raised about this $2.5-billion budget being overdrawn, as it was with the procurement for military craft, which saw the budget balloon from $26 billion to $84 billion.

Jaczek claims that the complexity of these projects will not rival that of military craft. She said that as the groundwork has been laid for the National Shipbuilding Program, the complexities and inefficiencies have been worked out of the system.

“We really were going from nothing to a whole new industry. You’ve built IKEA cabinets yourself, right? The first one is really hard, and they get easier the more times you do it,” said Jaczek.

“Now, these are much smaller vessels. I think there’s a lot of in-house expertise in terms of what is needed in terms of a small Coast Guard vessel, and so I don’t expect the cost overruns to be proportional to these huge naval combat-type ships.”

According to Assistant-Commissioner of the CCG in the Atlantic Region, Gary Ivany, over half of the small CCG search and rescue boats have been replaced with the state-of-the-art Bay-Class vessels, with the rest of the fleet being replaced as part of this $2.5-billion procurement strategy. With a longer range of operation, the Bay-Class will allow the CCG to better serve small communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the rest of Atlantic Canada.

“We are dedicating some of these new ships to Burin and Burgeo this coming year. The Pennant Bay, which is behind us, is one of the new Bay-Class state-of-the-art vessels. It will be stationed, again, in St. Anthony once the ice moves out,” said Ivany.

“With a range of over 100 nautical miles, that search and rescue lifeboat can cover an increased range from previous vessels.”

Ivany said that while not all yards in Canada may get the opportunity, or even choose to pursue building contracts, they will still have the ability to pursue repair contracts with the government’s aging fleet of vessels.

“If they don’t build, that shipyard will have a lot more capacity to be in the repair business. We know there’s a small industry in North America and in Canada specifically, for building and repair, and they’re basically the same type of yard,” said Ivany.

The planned fisheries research vessel is slotted to be on the water by 2026 and will feature hybrid technologies as part of helping Canada meet its future emission targets.

“Some of the ships that were built about 20 years ago is moving into more environmentally friendly designs. Hybrid technology, as we know, in the automobile industry has really driven the technology that’s going to be able to be used in marine. So, hybrid vessels that will be able to operate on batteries to do science work,” said Ivany.

As far as how the government will decide who gets the work contracts for these vessels and if the workload will be spread evenly across the capable provinces, Jaczek said she believes the approval process will be assessed for fairness to all applicants.

“I’m sure that when people apply, they will look carefully at assuring there is some equity across the country,” said Jaczek. “That’s the way PSPC works in general as a ministry. They’re very conscious of ensuring the economic benefit is spread.”