Canada is poised to make its largest investments in shipbuilding since the Second World War.
The federal government is preparing to spend about $35-billion to build a fleet of new defence, patrol and scientific research vessels.
How those funds are allocated will dramatically change the future of Canada’s shipbuilding industry for at least a generation.
Underpinning this must be a thriving and competitive domestic shipbuilding industry that supports an integrated shipbuilding strategy with centres of excellence for shipbuilding on both the East and West coasts. This is necessary for both security and economic reasons.
We are a sea-faring nation with the world’s longest coastline. Given that 90 per cent of the world’s goods move along sea lanes, it is vital that we are able to protect and advance our interests at sea.
Over the next 30 years, we will need to build about 30 large ships and about 100 smaller ships for our navy and coast guard. Also, on the West Coast, B.C. Ferries has a significant need for new ships over the next two decades.
All of this means that Canada has enormous shipbuilding needs for our navy, coast guard, research institutions, ferries and the private sector for the foreseeable future.
To meet these needs we must plan for a continuous building and repair strategy, rather than the boom-bust building cycles we have seen in the past. An integrated shipbuilding strategy would allow all key players to effectively plan for the long-term and to work together to build and repair ships efficiently while ensuring continuous employment for thousands of skilled workers. Centres of excellence for shipbuilding on each coast will enable this to occur.
Building a centre in British Columbia is particularly important as the Asia-Pacific theatre is where most of the geostrategic and commercial challenges will occur (e.g. North Korea, China).
As a nation, Canada must be able to exert its sovereignty, protect its interests, work with its allies and be able to respond to natural and man-made threats.
With B.C.’s talented workforce in the skilled trades, its strategic location and existing shipbuilding infrastructure, it would be absurd not to have a centre of excellence for shipbuilding in Victoria. It would compromise our security to have our warships made and repaired by a foreign power. We must have a strong presence on the Pacific Ocean and be able to build and repair our ships along the West Coast.
Innovative funding for this initiative can come from investing the current import tariff on vessels purchased overseas into a dedicated shipbuilding infrastructure fund.
Currently, money from this tariff is dumped into general revenue. It makes much more sense to dedicate this revenue into a fund that can be matched by monies from the private sector and used to invest in shipbuilding infrastructure.
For too long, it’s been feast or famine for Canada’s shipbuilding industry. Now is the time to make long-term investments in Canada’s workers and infrastructure to ensure that we have the domestic shipbuilding and ship repair capabilities our nation needs.
—Dr. Keith Martin (Liberal) is the MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.