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McCOLL: Frig it. Navy’s new ships over budget and behind schedule. Again

The cost of replacing Canada aging surface fleet skyrocketed $82 billion, and will be at least two years late.

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The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released a new report on February 24 about the escalating costs of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project. The program to build fifteen new Type 26 frigates in Halifax is behind schedule and billions over budget. Again.

The original 2008 budget from the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Harper Government – a number that many defence experts suggested was an impossibly low estimate – was $26.2 billion. A 2017 PBO estimate put the cost at around $62 billion. DND then updated their own estimate to between $56 and $60 billion.

In 2019, the PBO revisited the program, and again the budget increased; this time to $69.8 billion. The latest 2021 estimate is a staggering $77.3 billion if the ships are built on time, $79.7 billion if COVID causes only a single year delay, and $82.1 billion if the program is delayed by 2 years.

The PBO attributes these increases to a combination of factors “including a significant increase in lightship weight (from 6,900 to 7,800 tonnes) and a shift in the start of construction.” 

Much of this 13 per cent weight gain is attributed to the Navy requesting Canadian customization of the British Type 26 design. Lockheed Martin – the design team lead – will be responsible for managing the $4.4 billion development work budget. 

It is quite lucrative to reinvent things for the Canadian military, but not nearly as lucrative as being the local provincial government. Nova Scotia charges the military a 10 per cent PST on these ships.

In a Western Standard interview with the PBO’s Yves Giroux and the two lead analysts who wrote this report, I asked if Canadian taxpayers could save over $7 billion by building these ships in PST-free Alberta – hypothetically, of course – and their answer was a simple: “Yes.” 

That PST bill is worth more than Nova Scotia’s last three years of equalization transfers combined.

The only Navy procurement that currently seems to be going well is Canada’s new Saab CU-176 Gargoyle maritime helicopter drone program. The Navy’s new Swedish drones are being assembled in PST-free Medicine Hat, Alberta.

An odd aspect of the PBO report was the cost comparison to alternate designs: the FREMM and Type 31e. A Navy expert interviewed off-the-record said that including the FREMM makes sense, but that the Type 31e should never have been considered.

The United States Navy recently selected the French/Italian FREMM design to be the basis of its new Constellation-class frigate program. 

The PBO estimated the cost of Irving building 15 Constellation-class frigates in Canada at $71.1 billion. The PBO clarified in the interview that this was based on the US Constellation-class estimates, not on the $30 billion bid the FREMM consortium submitted to the Canadian government in 2017 that was rejected for failing to meet industrial benefit requirements.

The British Type 31e does not yet exist. It is a proposal for a much smaller, less capable, and more affordable frigate based on a Danish design. So why was it included? Because a politician ordered it at a committee. In my initial call, a PBO PR person said that they only looked at the FREMM and Type 31 because that is what the Government Operations and Estimates Committee motion ordered them to investigate.

When I pointed out that the Bloc MP who made the motion – in French – requested that the PBO investigate the FREMM, Type 31, “et de tout navire de catégorie comparable” (and similar ships) but that the official English record of the motion was mistranslated; there was an awkward pause followed by an invitation to interview the PBO.

Two hours later in said interview, the fluently bilingual PBO Yves Giroux explained that they fully understood the French motion but only investigated the FREMM and Type 31 due to time constraints. 

He went on to say that the PBO would be happy to do a cost estimate for the F-105 and De Zeven Provinciën-class frigates (the two other bids that lost the 2017 design competition) should the Committee order a second report.

Perhaps instead of forcing nationally regulated private businesses to provide bilingual service, the Trudeau Liberals should concentrate on getting Parliamentary Committee motions correctly translated into English.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist for the Western Standard

Opinion

WAGNER: Coming federal election could drive support for Alberta independence

“The election results may very well convince enough Albertans that independence is the only alternative to a future of continued economic decline and impoverishment.” – Michael Wagner

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Many commentators have speculated that there will be a federal election this year, quite possibly in the spring. Early in February, Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star wrote a column entitled, Trudeau’s strategic plans aimed at June election. A few days later, Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun contributed a similarly-themed column, Spring election could still be in Trudeau’s cards. And on March 1, Lilley’s Toronto Sun colleague Lorrie Goldstein added another, Liberals looking for excuses to call an election.  

These columnists are speculating, of course, but they offer strong reasons why an election may not be too distant in the future.

The outcome of the impending election will have a very big impact on Alberta. If Justin Trudeau is re-elected with a majority government – as some polls seem to indicate – his climate change policies designed to phase-out Alberta’s oil industry will be locked in place for at least four more years. Alberta will continue to suffer job losses and other fiscal and economic hardships. The provincial outlook will be truly bleak.

Many Albertans realize that the stakes in the election will be very high. The future of their livelihoods is in jeopardy. For them, a Trudeau majority government would be the last straw. Government-imposed financial suffering will be impossible to endure any longer. A new path forward will be needed. For a growing number of us, that means independence 

In other words, if Justin Trudeau wins the upcoming election, expect to see the Alberta independence movement experience unprecedented growth. Large numbers of people will be desperate and willing to consider previously unthinkable options. 

This kind of thing has happened on a smaller scale before. It was due to widespread anger after the February 1980 re-election of Pierre Trudeau that Elmer Knutson formed West-Fed and began holding large meetings around the province. In the wake of the November 2000 re-election of Jean Chretien’s Liberals, province-wide anger propelled support for Cory Morgan’s Alberta Independence Party, while Stephen Harper and some of his colleagues published the famous “Firewall Letter.” 

More recently, immediately after Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected with a minority government in October 2019, well-attended Wexit meetings were held around Alberta, including one with 1700 people in Calgary. The Wexit organization formally merged with the Freedom Conservative Party in June 2020 to form the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta. 

Indeed, the existence and growth of the Wildrose Independence Party and the federal Maverick Party can be attributed in large measure to the outcome of the 2019 federal election. It seems clear then, that federal election results have been a major factor in the development of Alberta’s (and Saskatchewan’s) independence movement.

This pattern is likely to be repeated when the next federal election is held later this year. Unless Erin O’Toole can engineer a miraculous turn-around in Conservative Party support, Trudeau will be back and Alberta will be trapped within a country whose government is determined to destroy its primary industry. In that case, expect many Albertans to fight back. Expect big meetings around the province with impassioned speakers advocating independence to preserve our future. Memberships in Wildrose and the Maverick Party will sell briskly and new volunteers will step forward.

If O’Toole can pull a rabbit out of the hat, the initial response in Alberta will be celebratory. Trudeau would be gone. What could be better than that? But O’Toole’s commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change would tie his hands and limit his enthusiasm for developing Alberta’s rich energy wealth. 

O’Toole has also been a defender of the current Equalization formula and supply management, policies meant to win votes in other parts of Canada. 

After voting overwhelmingly for the Conservatives, Albertans would justifiably anticipate some payback. If O’Toole didn’t deliver, there would be severe consequences for him and his party. A betrayed electorate would look to its only remaining option: independence.

The upcoming federal election will likely be a key event for Alberta’s future. Another term for Justin Trudeau would be an existential threat to the province. A victory for Erin O’Toole would be somewhat better, but would hold no guarantees for Alberta’s well-being. Pro-fossil fuel policies are very much out-of-favour in Central Canada where both parties are eager to please the voters. 

The election results may very well convince enough Albertans that independence is the only alternative to a future of continued economic decline and impoverishment. For Alberta, it seems that there is no way forward except out. 

Michael Wagner is a Senior Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

PARKER: Kenney is the wolf in sheep’s clothing

“Alberta conservatives were deceived by one of Canada’s greatest political showmen. He bought a new blue truck, put on a cowboy hat, and sang us a Siren’s song.” – David Parker, Guest Columnist

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Guest Column: David Parker was the Regional Organizer for Central Alberta on the 2017 Jason Kenney Leadership Campaign and GOTV Membership Chair of the Wildrose Unity Campaign

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus gives his followers a warning, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Whether you are a Christian, follow another creed, or simply a person who cares about freedom, we should always pay attention to those who claim to be prophets. Jason Kenney came to Alberta as a kind of secular prophet. He claimed that he would unite the Wildrose and PC parties, restore the Alberta Advantage, defeat Ottawa, and lead his people back to the proverbial Promised Land. 

Now, he puts preachers in jail, destroys small businesses, takes on record levels of debt, and fills our province with fear. 

Even worse, he is not a leader. His true talents lay in being the right-hand man to a leader; but he has proven himself unable to make clear decisions or even adhere to any real comprehensive set of principles. He claims to be a conservative; but he has his government buy up and subsidize private businesses with record levels of corporate welfare. He says he is a man of faith (and he probably is); but he crushes those who wish to practice their faith in a manner that disagrees with his government’s authoritarian policies. 

This is evident from many angles; but the most obvious example of it is how he ran nominations. He is an authoritarian. I was the campaign manager for Rita Reich’s nomination race in Lacombe – Ponoka (one of Kenney’s staunchest supporters during both the PC and UCP leadership races). He disqualified her over a single Facebook post that said Hitler was actually a socialist. That was it, it did not praise Hitler, it just said that Hitler was a socialist based on the fact that he led something called the National Socialist German Workers Party, and repeatedly referred to himself as a “revolutionary socialist”. He did this to a woman who had him to her house for BBQs with hundreds of people and who sold hundreds of memberships in support of him. Why? It was easier for him to simply disqualify her than let her challenge a sitting MLA in a nomination. 

The list of loyal people that Jason Kenney has used and discarded is long and full of many very talented people. The worst case of this is perhaps the story of Caylan Ford, who Kenney praised as his, “political love at first sight” and who the UCP used in much of their campaign digital and visual messaging. When she encountered a targeted and malicious attack from a bad actor within the conservative movement, he dumped her as a candidate and left her to bleed out under the wrath of the SJW mob. Kenney folds to cancel culture like a cheap house of cards. Just like he bows to Rachel Notley when she calls for more lockdowns.

Alberta conservatives were deceived by one of Canada’s greatest political showmen. He bought a new blue truck, put on a cowboy hat, and sang us a Siren’s song. We don’t have to keep believing him. His actions have shown us who he truly is. 

The mask is dropped. We can now see as clearly as day that the sheep is truly a wolf. 

Guest Column: David Parker was the Regional Organizer for Central Alberta on the 2017 Jason Kenney Leadership Campaign and GOTV Membership Chair of the Wildrose Unity Campaign

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Opinion

SCOTT: Supreme Court injustice allows Ottawa to rule all

“In one fell swoop the Supreme Court of Canada has gutted any meaningful provincial jurisdiction, creating an untenable situation that, if left to stand, will add unbearable tension to the federation.” Mike Scott

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Guest Column from Mike Scott, Reform MP for Skeena, BC from 1993-2000.

The recent Supreme Court decision, which provides legal cover for the Trudeau government’s usurpation of provincial jurisdiction on carbon taxes, should be of immense concern to all Canadians.

In essence, the Supreme Court did not take issue with the argument put forward by three provinces that the federal government’s carbon tax is an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. 

What the majority on the court did accept is the Liberal government’s argument that such an intrusion is justified under the rubric “Peace Order and Good Government (POGG)”.

On the face of it, this is an astounding conclusion.

POGG was never intended to be a substitute for clear, constitutionally delineated jurisdictions, nor a tool for constitutional monkey wrenching.

This is a clear case of an activist court seeking justification – no matter how thin – to endorse a progressive political agenda.

First, the court is clearly taking sides in a public policy debate and the reasons for judgement underscore this. Public policy arbitration was never intended to be the purview of the court and, by venturing into this highly charged political debate, it is signaling a willingness to take ever more activist positions.

Citizens don’t get to vote for judges – the prime minister appoints – but it is vital to the credibility of the institution that the court remains assiduously neutral. Jurisdictional disputes must be weighed against the metric of the constitution and adjudicated based on longstanding principles of law – jurisprudence – not creative or specious arguments.

Secondly, by accepting the federal government’s “POGG” argument, one can see the door has now been swung wide open for future intrusions. This is the slippery slope the Supreme Court’s decision has set us on. Going forward, all the feds need to do is invoke “POGG” – there will be no judicial recourse for the provinces.

This is exceedingly dangerous for confederation. As the provinces come to understand that their constitutional jurisdictions are trumped by POGG – with the collusion of the high Court – what recourse do they have?

There is already far too much political power concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. Adding the Supreme Court to the list of institutions lined up against the country’s regions is exceedingly provocative. When, on this continuum, do we reach a tipping point?

It is worth quoting the dissenting voice of Supreme Court Justice Russel Brown who brilliantly spells out the ramifications.

“It is not possible for a matter formerly under provincial jurisdiction to be transformed, when minimum national standards are invoked…This would open up any area of provincial jurisdiction to unconstitutional fedreral intrusion once parliament decides to legislate uniform treatment”

Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe, also in dissent, cogently adds; 

“Canada’s proposed doctrinal expansion of national concern should be rejected because it departs in a marked and unjustified way from the jurisprudence of the court and, if adopted, it will provide a broad and open pathway for further incursions into what has been exclusive provincial jurisdiction. (the act) is not an exercise in cooperative federalism; rather, it is the means to enforce supervisory federalism”

The Supreme Court’s willingness to allow POGG as a means to justify abrogating a clear provincial jurisdiction, is a threat to the regions of Canada that is unprecedented. It is an egregious assault on one of the very foundational principles of our constitution – the division of powers between the provinces and the federal government. 

In one fell swoop the Supreme Court of Canada has gutted any meaningful provincial jurisdiction, creating an untenable situation that, if left to stand, will add unbearable tension to the federation.

All provinces – particularly those in the West with significant energy resources – should see the writing on the wall.

Guest Column from Mike Scott, Reform MP for Skeena, BC from 1993-2000.

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