Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Liberals Face Decisions on Navy's $104 Billion Frigate Replacement Program

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Liberals Face Decisions on Navy's $104 Billion Frigate Replacement Program

Article excerpt

Libs facing decisions on frigate replacements

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OTTAWA - The federal cabinet will soon be asked to make an initial down payment on the navy's $104-billion frigate replacement program with an approval that will lay the groundwork for the new fleet, The Canadian Press has learned.

It will be asked not only to approve requirements for the new warships and cost tradeoffs, but also first-stage funding, which will allow defence planners to get the ball rolling.

But getting a revised cost estimate before the Liberal government has proven to be a painful exercise and budget planners at National Defence and the Finance Department engaged in a tug-of-war over projections ahead of Tuesday's federal budget, say several defence and government sources.

The sources, who cannot be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions, say Finance Minister Bill Morneau's office has been anxious for military planners to produce numbers on the Canadian Surface Combatant program for the last couple of months.

But defence officials have been reluctant to be pegged down because of the complex variables and that means they're only able to project numbers into the future with "about 80 per cent certainty," said one source with knowledge of the discussions.

Since the political fiasco over cost estimates for the F-35 jet fighters a few years ago, there's a desire to get the numbers as close to 100 per cent as possible, said the source.

The former Conservative government was hammered by the auditor general and the parliamentary budget officer for not including the full cost of buying and operating a fleet of 65 stealth fighters.

Internal documents and presentations leaked to The Canadian Press show that the federal cabinet was to receive an update this month on the frigate project, "including high-level requirements and cost-capability tradeoffs and the plan forward."

The November 2015 presentation said "funding decisions for the budget 2016" would be made, followed by a request to approve initial funding.

The estimated construction cost for 15 warships was originally pegged at $26 billion, but officials have long indicated privately -- and sometimes publicly -- that the price tag is outdated and will go higher. …

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