Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Loose lips shouldn't sink these ships

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Loose lips sink ships. In wartime Halifax, staging port for North Atlantic convoys, people took this slogan seriously.

With good reason. Stopping convoys was the German navy's primary mission. There was a real risk unguarded talk in port could provide targeting information to enemy submarines.

Happily, the navy and Halifax have less cause to worry about loose lips today.

At least not about the pair attached to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny. They're loose, but probably not dangerous.

Kenny, former chairman of the Senate defence committee and a longtime critic of the decision to build Arctic patrol vessels, has created a stir by calling on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to axe the ships in his March 29 budget.

The senator thinks it's "dumb" not to give priority to heavy icebreakers or to replacement of the navy's command destroyers, particularly when the budget will cut spending at Defence and other departments.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to him it would be far dumber suddenly and arbitrarily to cancel the first batch of ships awarded to the Irving Halifax Shipyard only five months ago as part of a $25-billion deal to build 21 naval vessels over the next 30 years.

That would be a stunning economic blow to Nova Scotia, which expects the megaproject to generate some 11,500 jobs and create a hub of technology and knowledge industries.

It would make a mockery of the much-praised bid process.

And it would say the feds were not serious about practising the long-term capital planning and procurement necessary for Canadian shipbuilders and suppliers to make huge investments and for workers to plan careers in shipbuilding or lives in shipbuilding centres like Vancouver and Halifax.

For all these good reasons, the chances of Kenny cutting any ice with the finance minister are zero. And rightly so.

Plans to cut current departmental spending this year were already a fact when the ship contract was awarded.

In any case, Kenny is confusing the highway patrol with the snowplow. These vessels are to patrol the Arctic, not break ice for shipping. If Arctic traffic does increase in the future, it will be because global warming, not heavy icebreakers, open up the lanes.

Give it up, Senator, and move on.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2012 A11

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