Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Budget Officer Takes Aim at Tories' Handling of Long-Delayed Navy Supply Ships

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Budget Officer Takes Aim at Tories' Handling of Long-Delayed Navy Supply Ships

Article excerpt

Budget officer takes aim navy supply ships

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OTTAWA - The Harper government moved to blunt looming criticism of the navy's long-delayed supply ship program and its marquee shipbuilding strategy by leap-frogging ahead of a critical report scheduled to be released Thursday by the parliamentary budget officer.

Senior officials at Public Works, who oversee the National Shipbuilding Strategy, held a technical briefing Wednesday ahead of the release of a report that will declare the program to replace the navy's 45-year-old supply ships as unaffordable given the inadequate $2.6 billion set aside by government for the purchase.

The shipbuilding bidding process was seen as a model for future procurements when it was unveiled last year. Problems with affordability of the ships could add to the political embarrassment the government suffered over the purchase of new fighter jets.

A report by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page will underscore the higher cost associated with building ships in Canada, as the government acknowledged, but senior Public Works officials, who spoke on background, insisted the program remains on track to deliver two ships by 2018-19.

Those officials conceded in the briefing that the vessels, which are still being designed, will be reviewed to see if they are affordable and raised the possibility that some capabilities could be scaled back.

It was Page's stinging criticism of the F-35 stealth fighter that ignited a political controversy which ultimately resulted in the Conservatives' re-examination of the multibillion-dollar program. Page accused National Defence of low-balling the multi-purpose jet's purchase and maintenance costs. That criticism that was backed up by the auditor general.

Background material released Wednesday as part of the briefing shows the government may have learned its accounting lesson. Estimates for the full cycle cost of the new supply ships at $7.1 billion.

Liberal defence critic John McKay dismissed the briefing as recognition that the government's plans will not live up to the political hype.

"They're just trying to head off negative publicity," he said Wednesday.

The shipbuilding plans have been held up as an example of success, but over one year after the framework deal was announced there has been growing concern because no actual construction contracts have been signed and there are questions about the program's ability to deliver the same number of ships as initially promised. …

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