Harper's neglect has put Canada's Navy in hot water

By Scott Taylor 

For months now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been trying to portray himself as some sort of a warrior king.

Since the outset of the crisis in Ukraine, Harper has been the most strident critic of Russian aggression among all the NATO leaders. As part of the whole tough-guy routine, Harper and his eager accomplice, Defence Minister Jason Kenney, staged a photo op aboard HMCS Fredericton.

During a whirlwind European tour last month, Harper and Kenney diverted Fredericton from a NATO exercise to the Polish port of Gdynia. Once aboard the frigate, Harper and Kenney took turns striking martial poses and scanning the horizon. Much news was made of the fact that Russian warships, patrolling inside Russian waters, had come within 31 1/2 kilometres of Fredericton while Harper and Kenney strutted about on the poop deck.

Then there was the extremely expensive and unnecessarily dangerous little excursion into Kurdistan. An entire convoy of armoured sport utility vehicles had to be flown to Erbil, along with an entire platoon of elite JTF2 special forces operatives, in order to escort Harper and Kenney to the Kurdish front lines. Once there, Defence Department photo techs recorded the fleeting moment wherein Harper and Kenney took turns staring out across the empty desert toward distant defensive positions manned by ISIS fighters. Unfortunately, there is only so much a cameraman can do, and the images of Harper and Kenney — two heavy-set, middle-aged men who have never worn a uniform — did not present a very martial image, no matter how hard they tried. One has to believe that the Russians and ISIS were, at best, mildly amused at the efforts of Harper and Kenney to suck in their guts and attempt to look menacing.

Undermining all of this brinkmanship by Canada’s dear leader comes a bucketload of bad news regarding the state of our navy. Last Monday, it was first reported in the Ottawa Citizen that HMCS Athabaskan, Canada’s last destroyer, has been suspended from active service. The reason for Athabaskan’s suspension stems from numerous engine-related failures, cracks in the hull and the breakdown of habitability requirements. True enough, the Athabaskan is 43 years old and scheduled to be decommissioned in 2017. However, until that date, she was still slated for operational duty.

HMCS Athabaskan. (DND)

HMCS Athabaskan. (DND)

In fact, Athabaskan was to be a participant in the large-scale NATO training exercise known as Trident Juncture in October. One of the reasons behind Trident Juncture is to demonstrate NATO’s collective resolve to act as a deterrent to Russia. How ironic then that tough-talking Canada will be sitting this one out because we neglected the maintenance on our last remaining destroyer.

Ditto for Canada’s supply ships. Last year, both HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver were taken out of service. Protecteur had caught fire at sea in the Pacific, causing extensive damage, and Preserver had revealed cracks in its hull. Given that both of these supply ships were more than 40 years old, the Royal Canadian Navy decided not to bother attempting repairs. As a result, the navy is now without the capability to replenish warships at sea, which has meant a drastic reduction in operational readiness. On any extended deployment, the navy have had to beg and borrow from our NATO allies.

PACIFIC OCEAN (June 23, 2011) The guided-missile frigate USS Boone (FFG 28) conducts a replenishment at sea with Chilean navy oiler Almirante Montt (AO 52). 

PACIFIC OCEAN (June 23, 2011) The guided-missile frigate USS Boone (FFG 28) conducts a replenishment at sea with Chilean navy oiler Almirante Montt (AO 52). 

As a stop-gap measure to alleviate their critical operational shortfall, word has now come out that the navy will be leasing the services of the Chilean navy supply ship Almirante Montt. At a cost of about $6 million, the Canadian navy will have use of Almirante Montt for 40 sea days. While this allows Canada’s Pacific fleet a modicum of respite, on the Atlantic side, it will be the Spanish navy helping us out. While the details are not public, it has been reported that the Canadian navy will have limited use of ESPS Cantabria throughout 2016.

What is truly amazing is that Canada, the tough-talking G8 nation, has in fact neglected our navy to the point where we have to lease the services of the Chilean and Spanish navies. Even more telling is the fact that two non-G8 nations had the forethought to actually possess a surplus of such naval assets that they can actually afford to charter them out to us. Maybe the next photo op should be Harper and Kenney on board these foreign supply ships scanning the horizon for the dastardly Russians.