Monday, October 11, 2004

Canada's Used Submarines

As a Canadian, I've been reading the news over the past few days with a mixture of pride, shame, and anger. A few days ago, I was surfing the Internet and reading the news about how a Canadian submarine called the HMCS Chicoutimi had caught fire off the coast of Scotland, immobilizing the sub, killing one crewmember, and injuring two others. I sat there wondering what the sub was doing off the coast of Scotland (Canada doesn't have that many submarines to be patroling that far out), and after some more reading, I realized with anger that this submarine was one of the used ones Canada had purchased from Britain.

To get the full meaning behind this story, we need to go back about 12 years. From 1984 to 1993, the Conservative party was in power in Canada with Brian Mulroney as the prime minister. Near the end of their time in power, the conservatives had put forward a plan to modernize some of the equipment being used by the Canadian military. They planned to retire the aging Sea King helicopters and replace them with the Cormorant helicopter. They also planned to buy a number of new and modern nuclear-powered submarines to allow them to patrol Canada's shorelines. In 1993, there was a federal election in which the Liberal party attacked the conservatives for their planned defence spending, lambasting it as being extravagant. When the Liberals won, they promptly cancelled the Cormorant contract (paying almost $500 million in penalties) and instead of buying the modern nuclear-powered subs, they decided to buy some used diesel-powered submarines from Britain.

Since then, things have just gone downhill. After cancelling the Cormorant helicopter purchase, the Department of National Defence conducted a detailed study for a replacement helicopter, and five years later ended up selecting and purchasing the same helicopter as was in the deal that was cancelled. So, at the end, all the Liberals managed to do was waste $500 million in cancellation penalties, and continue for five more years to jeopardize the lives of Canadian Air Force pilots in the decrepit and accident-prone "Sea Thing" helicopters.

And now, five years later, it seems the other shoe drops. The used diesel-powered subs sold to Canada by Britain turned out to be plagued by problems. Should that really surprise us - if those subs were so great, wouldn't Britain still be using them? In this latest debacle, one of Britain's used subs, which was just this past weekend renamed the HMCS Chicoutimi, caught fire on its maiden voyage from Britain to Canada and had to be towed back to Britain. So instead of buying modern new submarines, Canada tried to save a few dollars and ended up buying some beat-up old used jalopies from Britain. What a disgrace!

The Canadian military has been chronically underfunded for years, and has been making do with insufficient and antiquated equipment for a long time. For example, Canada played an active role in the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia five years ago, but their participation was delayed for a couple of weeks because the Canadian fighter-jets were dependent on American refueling aircraft to allow them to make it across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe (Canada doesn't have any fueling planes or aircraft carriers). The Canadian aircraft did well once they got to Yugoslavia, but I personally found it shameful that they could not make it there without the gracious help of Canada's southern neighbor. What a disgrace!

As for my feelings, I'm proud of the Canadian military personnel, who have gotten very good at doing a lot with very little. I feel ashamed of the Canadian government, who constantly short-changes these same Canadian military personnel, keeping their salaries low while denying them the basic equipment they need to work with. And, I feel angry at the British and Canadian bureaucrats: the British bureaucrats who thought they could make a quick buck by unloading some of their problem subs on one of their allies while risking the lives of their allies' sailors, and the Canadian bureacrats who were stupid and gullible enough to fall for the British sales pitch. Shame on all of them!

The Canadian government needs to wake up and realize that if they want to be able to be active in United Nations peacekeeping activities, and wants to be an active particpant in NATO, they need to provide the troops with the equipment they need to get the job done - and not the used hand-me-downs from our allies. To keep scrimping and saving only serves to put Canadian soldiers' lives at risk and make Canada's military the laughing stock of NATO.