The state of Canada's fleet—National Shipbuilding Strategy: February 2012 to December 2015 status report

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Through the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Government of Canada maintains two sizeable fleets of vessels. The Royal Canadian Navy is a highly adaptable and flexible force that plays a key role in ensuring Canada's sovereignty and protecting the country's interests at home and abroad. Its fleet consists of 12 Canadian-built Halifax-class multi-role patrol frigates, four Victoria-class long range patrol submarines, 12 Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessels, one Iroquois-class destroyer and eight Orca-class vessels.

The Canadian Coast Guard, responsible for Maritime Search and Rescue, environmental response for all ship-based spills, icebreaking in both the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Arctic, and maintaining the largest and safest navigation system in the world, is the sole operator of the Government of Canada’s civilian fleet. The fleet of 117 vessels includes icebreakers, security patrol ships, science vessels, multi-tasked ships and search and rescue cutters.

To remain effective and able to fulfill their important responsibilities, both organizations require new vessels and are in the midst of comprehensive fleet modernizations.

Where we were

Canada is a maritime nation with the longest coastline in the world. A viable shipbuilding and ship repair industry is in Canada's national interests. But Canada's shipbuilding industry had shrunk since the mid-1990s because of lack of sustained, substantial work. As a result, Canadian companies had lost much of their capabilities to support the Navy's and the Coast Guard's shipbuilding requirements. Compared to those in other countries, Canada's shipyards were outdated and did not have readily available access to required equipment, supply lines and skilled workers. One-off procurements proved to be both inefficient and unaffordable.

In 2010, the government announced the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), formerly known as the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, which focuses on three distinctive pillars: large vessel construction; small vessel construction; and vessel repair, refit and maintenance. The strategy aims to equip the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard with needed vessels and support the Canadian economy by building them in Canada.

This will be achieved by developing a long-term shipbuilding plan rather than operating on a project-by-project basis. This approach allows the government and the shipyards to invest in the marine sector, build and maintain expertise, and create and sustain employment.

In February 2012 Canada signed long-term agreements, also referred to as "umbrella agreements", with the two shipyards selected to build large vessels. These two shipyards, Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (Halifax Shipyard), in Halifax and Seaspan's Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. (Vancouver Shipyards), in North Vancouver, were selected following a competitive process.

The umbrella agreements are the foundation of the strategic relationships to eliminate cycles of boom and bust in federal ship procurement and, therefore, provide predictability for the entire marine industry. Since the umbrella agreements were signed, the Government of Canada has negotiated and awarded a number of contracts with the shipyards.


Since the strategy was announced and the umbrella agreements were signed, notable achievements have been realized in both large vessel shipyards.

The Halifax and Vancouver shipyards modernized their infrastructures and both have vessels under construction. Together, they invested more than $500 million in their facilities, at no cost to the Government of Canada, to create the capacity needed to build Canada’s vessels. The Government of Canada, with the support of a third party expert, monitors progress to ensure that the shipyards have the technology and processes to rank among the top 25% of the most productive shipyards in the world.

Halifax Shipyard

Since being selected as Canada's strategic source of supply of combat vessels, Halifax Shipyard has:

In 2016, Halifax Shipyard will build on its progress from last year. Construction of the future HMCS Harry DeWolf, the first Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship, began on time in September 2015. The shipyard will begin cutting steel on the second vessel this year.

Vancouver Shipyards

Vancouver Shipyards, selected as the government's strategic source of supply of non-combat vessels, has:

In 2016, Vancouver Shipyards will continue to work on building the Canadian Coast Guard's Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels. By the end of 2015, construction is underway for the Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel.


While the strategy has made progress, success has been overshadowed by several challenges and growing pains.

Decision making has not been as effective as possible. After years of inactivity in the shipbuilding industry, expert advice needed to guide decision-makers was lacking within the government, and, in fact, within the country. In addition, the involvement of multiple departments created complexities with respect to responsibilities and accountabilities.

The number of government employees dedicated to shipbuilding had been reduced since the last large vessels—Canada’s fleet of Halifax-class multi-role patrol frigates—were delivered in the mid-1990s. Not only were government shipbuilding teams too small, they also lacked sufficient expertise to deliver on such a complex, long-term endeavour.

Budgets were set in the last decade using unstandardized approaches. In addition, figures were never updated to reflect inflation, significant changes in exchange rates or material costs. This meant that projects appeared to be vastly over-budget when actual contracts are signed.

Despite the multi-billion dollar value of the strategy, no formalized comprehensive mechanisms were in place to measure progress and results. This gap meant that the government would not be able to reliably determine if shipbuilding investments were achieving the Strategy’s objectives.

And finally, communications with Canadians were insufficient. Information on the cost and timelines of various builds was not regularly updated, and the inherent complexities of procurement, reinvigorating the marine sector and ship construction were left unexplained.

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