May 19, 2024
HMCS Chicoutimi rests on the syncrolift after being removed from the harbour in Halifax, N.S., Canada on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2006. A fatal fire aboard the second-hand warship effectively crippled the program for 10 years.

New Canadian submarines are ‘inevitable,’ says Blair. Acquiring them will be anything but

The question remains whether the prime minister and the cabinet are serious about defence and meeting their spending targets

Bill Blair, the federal defence minister, made a rare admission of Liberal fallibility in Washington on Monday when he said he regrets using the word “explore” when talking about renewing Canada’s submarine fleet.

Ottawa’s recent defence policy update said the government will “explore options for renewing and expanding the submarine fleet,” a form of words that was criticized for lacking urgency.

“It’s certainly not my intention to be wishy-washy. What I’ve tried to articulate very, very clearly and strongly in the document is, we know we have to replace our submarine fleet, and we’re going to do that,” Blair said.

Replacing the four Victoria-class subs is necessary, he said. “It is, I might suggest, inevitable.”

That is absolutely the case, if Canada is committed to maintaining its submarine capability. The Victoria-class subs date back to the late 1980s and are due to be taken out of service at the end of the 2030s.

Submarines are seen as a crucial defence against incursion by hostile powers, as the polar ice melts and opens up northern waterways. The Northwest Passage is forecast to be the most efficient shipping route between Asia and Europe by 2050.

But Blair admits “there is a lot of work to do,” not least convincing his cabinet colleagues of the “business case for the capability.”

“One of the greatest challenges of being a defence minister is to secure funding and the second one is actually spending it,” he said on Monday.

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