Defence Policy – Conservative Party
– December 2005
Stephen Harper announces the new defence policy
forward by the Conservative Party of Canada – Pt 2
Dianne DeMille & Stephen Priestley – this article has
been expanded from
'briefing notes' prepared by CASR for the CBC on 22 December
Update: On 09 July 2007, Prime Minister Harper announced a plan
to procure six- to-eight Arctic/Offshore
AOPS would act as OPVs in the Pacific and
Atlantic most of the year, venturing into the Arctic only during summer months
– wags immediately dubbed the ships "slushbreakers". Were promises kept? AOPS is
not the 'armed naval heavy icebreaker ' promised, nor was it delivered within the announced
5 years – first delivery slipped from 2013 to 2015 to 2018 to
Proposed Armed Heavy Icebreakers and Arctic Docking Facilities in Nunavut
Designing, building and deploying three new "armed naval heavy ice breakers" (and creating deep-water
docking facilities for these vessels on Baffin Island in Nunavut) is the most dramatic aspect of the newly
announced Conservative plans for ensuring Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
The general concept is a good one. But such ships would take at least a decade to design and build. Conservative
defence critic, Gordon O'Connor, claims that the first icebreaker would be in service within 5 years. This sounds
A cost of $2B for both ships and deepwater port seems equally doubtful. Election promises
are more convincing when better fleshed-out. So, where are the flaws?
The Conservative plan is quite insistant that these icebreakers will be armed naval vessels. It must be
remembered that Canada's Navy has not operated icebreakers
for half a century. HMCS Labrador was turned over to the Canadian Coast Guard and it is the CCG
who have operated all substantial icebreakers ever since. It is to the CCG that the Conservatives should have
turned. If the Conservative Party were serious about using icebreakers for sovereignty enforcement, they
would be looking for nearer-term solutions, such as
the modification of CCG - operated icebreakers.
There was another option not considered, a hybrid, partly-militarized Coast Guard armed icebreaker. In such a scenario,
the CCG would staff and run the icebreakers, the gun crews would be seconded from the Navy, while boarding parties
could be seconded from the RCMP or CBSA. In the interim, existing CCG Arctic icebreakers might be armed. Unfortunately,
politicians are more apt to be showy not effective.
According to the Globe&Mail (Jane Taber, 23 Dec 2005), Mr. Harper "would not indicate what weapons the
icebreakers would have". There was no real reason to be coy. Take a look at the potential opposition.
Ice-resistant Thetis class frigates operated by the
Danes in Greenland waters have a main armament of 76mm M/85 rapid fire guns. This is same 76mm/62 SR
arming Canada's Tribal destroyers one of which, DDH 282 Huron, was paid off in 2005
making one gun surplus. The three other Tribals (and their weapons systems) will retire by 2010 –
the date given for the Conservative's icebreakers entering servive. So why the armaments mystery?
Update: One criticism of the proposed AOPS is its tiny, 25-40mm main armament.
Mr. Harper proposed building icebreakers from scratch – this would be costly in both money and time.
The Canadian Coast Guard already has ice-breakers. But no thought was given to immediate solutions and, as a result,
this campaign promise
rings hollow. Such 'big ticket' items tend to run long, and over - budget.
Should the Conservatives form the next government, most likely
the bill for
armed icebreakers would be dumped on to the following federal