If ships were as popular as hockey…

Lets go political today! I was having a discussion with my parents a few days ago over various topics, but a typical, I believe, discussion between generations emerge as the general trend. My parents were ranting about how things are out of control in today’s world, priorities are all screwed up (paraphrasing) my response is / was that the blame for ills of society are our to bears; we are the government, we are the society. I believe we must involve ourselves in the decision making process and take full responsibility for the results. Idealistic perhaps, but one cant blame everybody else for all their “misery” without at least trying to do something about it.

So let me be the first to apologize for our current Canadian federal government and its numerous follies. The latest as spurned a rant of mine (runs in the family), that has driven the wife a bit annoyed – but I digress. Back at the beginning of the decade, the Liberal Party of Canada was, in my view, out of control and singularly obsessed with only its image and perception of the aforementioned. As a result, its decisions were disastrous and short sighted – basically resulting in years of inaction on numerous files.

So in 2006, I was seduced by the idea of an “open government” and the progressive message from the Conservative Party of Canada. I thought they would be a breath of fresh air, with a renewed interest in the maritime industry, neglected since the 1970’s.

In general, their “progressive” (much needed now and then) stand on Coast Guard and Navy asset acquisition, a positive outlook on general maritime matters, including my personal issues with Income Tax for Canadian foreign going sailors, were important enough for me to vote for them. Even Gary Lunn, the member of parliament from Victoria, and an outspoken supporter of the maritime industry was made a cabinet minister, my hope buoyed. But alas, I feel like an ass; but I am not willing to drive myself to apathy, instead I just did not vote for them in the recent election; or the Liberal for that matter, which appears to have not change one bit, despite their major fall from political graces five years ago.

So why mention this, well it is because I am dismayed at the latest, shameless, crass, poorly thought out vote grabbing scheme the Prime Minister has concocted thus far in his “secret, all controlling government”. Just to be specific, since there are quite a few schemes that come to mind, the 180 millions dollars offered to Quebec City to build a sport arena for a “possible” NHL franchise, is the current scheme I am referring to, announce late last week. Just writing about this makes me red in the face.

Never mind the absurdity of spending public money to bolster some already ludicrously rich person’s ego, who happens to owns a team, made up of also very rich sportsmen, who play games for a living. Sure they are good at what they do, and for that, I respect them. But offering public funds for this, at a time when there is few jobs, higher taxes and a crumbling infrastructure is really shameful, and I do apologize for my part in this.

The shame is plainly illustrated in Quebec City itself. In that city, at the St Lawrence River’s edge, is the Quebec Region’s Coast Guard base, a plush “accommodation” by some Canadian standards. Sure, it is a nice shore facilities, but the bulk of Coast Guard‘s work is at sea, and those “facilities”, considered within the coast guard to be the best they have, are severely lacking, a result of years of mismanagement, excessive bureaucracy and chronic underfunding by several governments (thus the reason for my hope with a new political party at the helm).

For example, the CCGS Pierre Radisson is sitting there, pretty much useless and ready for scrap, from what I understand, due to its main engines having issues that cannot simply be “bandaided” over, yet again. Granted, the Radisson is just one ship, but the rest of the of the fleet is similar in condition, vintage and literally the same engines, which would point to a pretty big problem on the not so distant horizon. I think $180 million could help, at least start replacing, this vessel.

Also in Quebec City, near by anyways – within sight, probably, of the proposed new coliseum to the hockey gods – is arguably Canada’s largest shipyard, Davie Yards. Yet again, struggling under bankruptcy protection – as it has for several years. Unlike a good deal of shipyards in Canada, who have simply ceased operations, and been “greened over”, for much more “sightly” (and easy taxing) condo developments, it has hobbled along like the handful of remaining yards across our country. Dancing the fine line between death and signs of life, like an elderly patient with an irregular heartbeat.

I would propose that the boost this yard needs, and the few other yards left in Canada also need, is not grants or “free” money, but just the carry through of the governments endless parade of shipbuilding announcements over the last thirty years. All of which have been carefully hatched, and re-hatched numerous times, to seduce people who would like to see real jobs, not just fast food service jobs, and real “things” remain in our nation. Alas the government of the day comes, makes announcements, pats themselves on the back and at the end of the day, nothing is done. But the government’s maritime assets continue to age.

Meanwhile the ship yards close, the workforce and its expertise slips into retirement, and the vital technology slips through our finger, like sand through a kids sieve at the beach. A kids sieve at the beach is pretty good description of the governments promises, especially when it comes to the shipping industry and our maritime assets. I guess I can take comfort in that their promises are pretty hollow, and not get too worked up about the latest promise to give professional sports team another 180 millions dollars.

But then again its hard to not to get worked up because this government has spent a great deal of money refurbishing assets in the military, unfortunately for Canadians, these expenditures have pretty much only benefited the US military industrial complex. Such as the jet fighters (of dubious function), cargo planes, and military trucks to name a few – I guess the stuff that keep jobs here though, are out of reach, or our voting influence is considered so inconsequential that the status quo appears to be the norm.

My friend in Coast Guard mentioned that “for sure we would see the Diefenbaker soon”, as was stated by his highly placed source in Ottawa. I admire the enthusiasm, but the realities are we will be lucky to see anything built for the Coast Guard, bigger than 87 foot patrol boat anytime, sooner or later, which will probably be built in the US. Well, at least it will be interesting to see how the CCG will change out a navigation buoy with that kind of vessel, but hey, it will look good in pictures.

As I write this, it has emerged that Montreal based civil engineering giant SNC Lavallin might partner up with Davie Yard. SNC Lavallin appears to have good connections in government, by already holding an expansive portfolio of government maintenance contracts across Canada, and dealing with the governments various assets – from building cleaning to navy ships maintenance. Obviously they must be salivating at the prospect of rebuilding the government’s fleet – and soon the government will not have a choice. Perhaps these “connections” will finally push the fleet renewal file up the priority ladder. One thing is for sure, 180 million dollars would certainly make some pretty good headway on the file.

In finishing my rant, it would appear that I am not alone in my dismay of this proposal by Steven Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister. The media is reporting that he has done some severe backtracking, and now the proposal for the arena has morphed into something other than the original statement, which of course, is customary for our governments, and we can only hope that like all their other promises, it will not materialize. Pheeeeww.

This article has 2 Comments

  1. Hey Martin, I just read a article about the US shipbuilding industry. It was very interesting. They talk about the fact that they have the 50 year old highly experienced workers and the 20 something green worker with no one between. They point to the cyclic nature of the industry as the reason.
    They go on to say that they expect a sharp decrease very soon as the US military ramps down and heads home.

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