Why isn’t NDP critic Randall Garrison questioning $200 billion navy procurement?

The job of the opposition in Parliament is to hold the government accountable, in part by asking questions. The role of an NDP critic should be to criticize from the left. So why the silence from Randall Garrison after Canada’s leading military reporter David Pugliese published a 5,000 word expose on the Canadian Surface Combatant headlined, “Billions in trouble: How the crown jewel of Canada’s shipbuilding strategy became a possible financial disaster waiting in the wings.”

Despite revelations over the past month of costs growing to over $200 billion, extreme secrecy, the addition of ballistic ‘missile defence’ and Tomahawk missiles that travel 1,700 kilometers, there has been nary a comment from the NDP defence critic on the 15 new frigates.

Initially pegged at $14 billion, the official price tag for the frigates later rose to $26 billion and now sits at $60 billion. In 2019 the Parliamentary Budget Officer put the cost about $10 billion higher and an updated frigates cost estimate next month is expected to reach $80 billion. To keep information about the swelling costs under wraps the military has resorted to extreme secrecy, reported Pugliese in the expose.

The recent winner of a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom followed his investigation into the cost and secrecy surrounding the frigates with a story about government officials criticizing companies for speaking out. Subsequently, Pugliese published a story headlined “Top of the line Canadian-made naval equipment shut out of $70-billion warship program” about government subsidized firms cut out of the Lockheed Martin led consortium set to build the frigates. As a result, Thales Canada’s government funded naval radar, which is being used on German, Danish and Dutch warships, won’t be part of the Canadian Surface Combatant.

In response to Pugliese’s reporting, the Ottawa Citizen editorial board criticized the frigate purchase in “Choppy waters for Canada’s warship program”. In November the Hill Times also published a commentary titled “Canada’s surface combatant costs might be taking on water” and a front-page story titled “DND says budget for Surface Combatants remains unchanged; PBO report expected in late February”. Two days before Christmas CBC reported an astounding estimate for the lifecycle cost of the frigates. Initially detailed in Esprit de Corps, former defence official Alan Williams’ concludes that the 15 frigates will cost $213 – 219 billion over 40 years!

One explanation for the astronomical cost of the 15 frigates is the radar system that’s been chosen. According to a CBC story from early December, the radar can be easily upgraded to a ballistic missile defence system, which successive Canadian governments have resisted joining. In the mid 2000s the Canadian Peace Alliance, Échec à la guerre, Ceasefire.ca and others forced the Liberal government to shelve its plan to formally join the US Ballistic Missile Defence. (It’s called “missile defence” because it’s designed to defend US missiles when they use them in offensive wars.)

In November a number of military focused publications reported on the weaponry expected on the vessels. “Canada’s New Frigate Will Be Brimming With Missiles”, is how The Drive described the ships. In a first outside the US, Canada’s surface combatants look set to be outfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometers away. As such, the frigates could be near London and hit Berlin or, more plausibly, docked in Panama City and strike Caracas, Venezuela.

As I recently detailed in Jacobin, Ottawa has long used naval force as a “diplomatic” tool. Early Canadian ‘gunboat diplomacy’ included pressing Costa Rica to repay the Royal Bank in 1921 and helping a dictator as he was massacring peasants in El Salvador in 1932. In recent years Canadian warships have gone to war with Libya and Iraq.

Amidst growing media criticism, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.

This is abysmal. What is the point of having an NDP defence critic if they are unwilling to question or challenge the largest procurement in Canadian history?

At the NDP convention in April members need to press Garrison to clarify his position on these violent, $200 billion frigates.

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