Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ships! We will have ships! Many ships...


Petey "Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates" MacKay was making bold with his announcement of 50, that's right count 'em, fifty ships to be built in Canada by the Canadian shipbuilding industry.
Canada's shipbuilders have agreed to a radical change in the way contracts will be doled out by the federal government.
Good. Because the current system, the one streamlined by the Harper government, quite frankly, sucks. The Harper government has cancelled or shelved every single ship procurement contract on the books and have seriously jeopardized the frigate mid-life modernization.
The government plans to spend $40 billion over the next 30 years to build as many as 50 large ships, in addition to 70 ships under 1,000 tonnes that have been earmarked for revamps.
Let's start with the "50 large" number. On the shelf are naval requirements for three Joint Support Ships and six to eight Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels. That's it. The former project was cancelled and the latter is on hold after being seriously watered down. (Let's not play the eight number. If these things ever materialize, six will be the maximum number.)

There are no other actual new construction projects in play - not even on hold.

The Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel project and Off-Shore Fisheries Research Vessel project were both dropped at the same time as the Navy's JSS project. You might not have heard it because it was mumbled out of the side of some boffin's mouth. Whether these are included in the "50" raises a question. The proposed size of the MSPV (37 - 42) meters sounds very much like an under-1000 tonner to me. It doesn't qualify under MacKay's announcement. And nobody really knows if the OFRV was larger or just another version of the MSPV. Let's pretend that it was intended to be over 1000 tonnes.

That makes 11 total possible ships with project status, even though the Harper government dropped all of them. (After big, loud promises to build them and, yes, even more!)

Now let's look at another number. The "30" years.

That presumes that the same government will be in power for the next 30 years because, as anyone in the ship procurement business can tell you, when governments change, so do plans.

The Harper Conservatives have a best-before-date that won't give them 30 more weeks without having to go to the voters and the shipbuilders know that.

"There is going to be enough work with 50 ships on order for every shipyard in the country to be going full steam, and that's good news in terms of the economy," said Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
I'm calling bullshit on MacKay. There will never be 50 ships on order. MacKay is playing with words and numbers that would make a dishonest accountant blush. Notice, the absence of "over 30 years" in his pronouncement.

... a new process that theoretically will allow the government to pick and choose in a more direct way which Canadian shipyards will build which ships. The agreement is meant to end the often intense bickering that has killed some government contracts.
Which is hardly the "conservative" way. What happened to the good old conservative maxim of "let the market reign"? This sounds like government controlled, government subsidized shipyards.
The agreement itself still requires scores of questions to be answered and many details to be ironed out.
Bingo! And one of the details is, what happens Peter, old boy, when you get turfed out of office and the "50" number changes? What happens if over 30 years requirements change?

Enact legislation making it mandatory? Give it a try.

Alan Williams, former head of procurement for the Defence Department, called the deal historic.

"I think the notion for revisiting the government's shipbuilding policy makes good sense," he said.

However, he added that if the program is not managed properly it could become a disaster. He said the government needs to make the process transparent to ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely.

That seals the fate of any deal with Harper's hillbilly government. I shouldn't have to say this, but if I were a shipbuilding company or a head of procurement basing a decision on the need for good management, one look at the Harper government track record would send shivers down the spine of any rational individual.

It would be too limiting to call this announcement nothing but smoke and mirrors. It is, in actual fact, complete bullshit and MacKay is an empty shirt.

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