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View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 18 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
Today we will be continuing our study on the national shipbuilding strategy. We will also discuss committee business during that last 60 minutes of today's meeting. Fortunately, although we have been delayed a little getting started, we do have some leeway in our second hour.
Today's meeting is taking place in the hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
Regarding the speaking list, the committee clerk and I will do the best we can to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members, whether they're participating virtually or in person. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind all participants who are here at this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of the recommendations from public health authorities, as well as the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on October 19, 2021, to remain healthy and safe, the following are recommended for all those attending in person.
Anyone with symptoms should participate by Zoom and not attend the meeting in person. Everyone must maintain a two-metre physical distancing whether seated or standing. Everyone must wear a non-medical mask when circulating in the room. It is recommended in the strongest possible terms that members wear their masks at all times, including when seated. Non-medical masks, which provide better clarity over cloth masks, are available in the room.
Everyone present must maintain proper hand hygiene using the hand sanitizer at the room entrance. Committee rooms are cleaned before and after each meeting, but it is helpful and we encourage you to clean surfaces, such as the desks, the chair and the microphone, with the provided disinfectant wipes when vacating or taking a seat. As the chair, I will be enforcing these measures for the duration of the meeting. I thank members in advance for their co-operation.
With that, I would like to welcome our witnesses. I appreciate both of you being here today. We will hear from Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Bureaux.
Just a reminder, the presentations that you have provided for us will be provided to every committee member so that they have access to it.
Mr. Bureaux, would you like to make your opening statement, please?
Don Bureaux
View Don Bureaux Profile
Don Bureaux
2022-05-06 13:19
Good afternoon, everyone.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon.
As was mentioned, my name is Don Bureaux, and I have the honour of being the president for the Nova Scotia Community College. Greetings from the beautiful Annapolis Valley here in Nova Scotia.
It was a very special day in October 2011 when all Nova Scotians collectively celebrated the awarding of the multi-million dollar shipbuilding contract to Irving Shipbuilding to of course construct combat ships for the federal government. The interest in being part of this project was certainly intense, and the excitement around a rebirth of our place in the nation as a shipbuilding province drew an unprecedented sense of pride.
I became president of the Nova Scotia Community College that same year. We are a pan-provincial college. We're the only publicly funded college in Nova Scotia, and we have 17 locations, with a mandate to help build a workforce for our province.
Since then, we've worked very hard and very proudly with the Irving Shipbuilding company as they came out of the starting gate strong to lay the foundation to launch this massive project. Part of their submission, of course, was a value proposition that included the work we've partnered on over the past number of years to enrich and build the skills and the dynamic of its workforce by ensuring, quite frankly, that all hands were on deck.
To kick-start this positive partnership, we signed an MOU with Irving to set up a centre of excellence. One of the major initiatives emerging from this centre was our pathways programming. The focus of this was to open doors to those historically under-represented in the shipbuilding industry. This included women, African Nova Scotians, indigenous, disabled and new Canadian learners.
A critical piece of our graduate success has been the support from our communities. Partners like the East Preston Empowerment Academy, the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Society, and Women Unlimited have given invaluable onboarding and continuing support for the learners throughout the entire journey.
We've had a number of people graduate from this program, with the majority heading to the shipyard for work placements and mentoring into eventual employment.
One of the keys to the program's success has been the unique cultural guidance and enrichment provided by our community partners for the students, for us as a college and for Irving, with a 14-week prep program interwoven with significant cultural threads to create a supportive community of learners built upon shared cultural experiences. NSCC and Irving continue to work with our partners, which include the provincial and federal governments, unions, industry associations and our local apprenticeship agency, to grow more developmental opportunities, including student awards.
The college has also helped train and upskill hundreds of individuals through our customized training team, and our team continues to develop training supports to help hone the skills of those building Canada's ships. At the same time that the work of the centre was under way, the college, with Irving, added to its infrastructure to support the growing needs. This included a new community learning centre in Amherst, with new programming; two new metal trades labs in our metro Halifax and Cape Breton campuses; a new pipe trades lab at our Halifax campus; and a new lab and programming at our Kentville campus.
I have submitted a briefing document with greater detail, but the facts and figures just don't provide the full extent of the project's dividends. The words and the personal transformations of our graduates tell so much more.
For example, Antonia Wareham, one of our first grads, who is now a mentor to those who have followed in the program, said, “I'm incredibly proud.... The Pathways program makes the industry more diverse and gives it a better chance [for] flawless success.” Sattina Dabb said, “I am now a woman in trades. I can be a role model [for] my children, especially my daughter.” Finally, Brad Paul said, “I wanted a career that was not only fulfilling for me, but [it] more importantly, ensured my daughter has the opportunities I didn't have.”
Our mission at the college is simple. It's to build the economy and quality of life of Nova Scotia through education and innovation one learner at a time. Our partnership with Irving to support this strategic work fits perfectly with that mission. The transformational changes this partnership has fostered with individuals like Antonia, Sattina and Brad speak to the priceless ripple effects stemming from this contract's value proposition.
What began a decade ago as a major economic advantage to our region, and what one observer called an “optimism dividend”, has taken on even greater significance with rising global activity. It has crystalized for all the importance of investing in a skilled workforce able to fulfill this national contract.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for the honour of speaking on behalf of the college today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Bureaux.
Mr. Mitchell, if you have a quick opening statement, you now have the floor.
Paul Mitchell
View Paul Mitchell Profile
Paul Mitchell
2022-05-06 13:25
In reviewing the testimony presented before this committee, I note that many have remarked on the difficult nature of defence procurement, and no other area has this difficulty, which nearly caused the elimination of a CAF capability through the failure to make a decision. Submarines are a classic case in this and remain so.
Unless the government makes an explicit announcement that submarines will be replaced in the next update of our defence policy, it is very likely that our present class of these vessels will be our last. The loss of submarines will leave our navy far less capable in a world where the number of navies operating them is growing rather than shrinking.
The present national shipbuilding strategy has no plans for the replacement of the Victoria-class submarines operated by the RCN.
“Strong, Secure, Engaged” only commits to their modernization. This process is already under way, which will keep the four boats working until roughly 2035. At that point, the oldest submarine in the fleet, HMCS Chicoutimi, will be 52 years old. Further operations will be done under considerable risk.
The year 2035 is only 13 years from now. Complex defence procurement projects like the next generation fighter and the Canadian surface combatant have both been extant for two decades and have yet to deliver replacements for the aging systems now being used. While extending the lifetime of a surface vessel is a challenge, with a submarine, it very much places the crew at direct risk.
In the 1990s, the submarine service went through a near-death experience due to the political indifference to the professional advice of the navy. This indifference was extended right up to the last minute, with a level of bargaining for a steeper price discount than what had already been negotiated, end results that may have enhanced some of the problems the RCN has experienced in operationalizing the boats. It is not entirely clear that the political system remains indifferent to the future of Canadian submarine service, but this time around, there will be no fire sale option to rescue it, should that be the case.
The recent AUKUS deal between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia highlights the role of nuclear submarines. The RCN has consistently argued that nuclear boats are preferable to conventional boats. Some may feel that this is due to the icy nature of our Arctic waters, which poses difficulties for conventional submarines due to their need to periodically surface. The travel times involved in getting a Canadian submarine on station, either in our Arctic regions or internationally, however, have more to do with recommending a nuclear option, as such boats can travel at high speeds under water indefinitely.
While either conventional or nuclear, if Canada is to replace its submarines, it will need to make decisions to do so very shortly. The navy has consistently advanced sound strategic reasons for Canada to operate these systems.
Given the complexity of their design and construction, as well as the specificity of our own requirements, we will need to work closely with a company with an established track record in building these submarines. Most off-the-shelf systems will not immediately meet the needs of the RCN, and not every nation building submarines may want to co-operate with us.
Further, despite the investments made by the national shipbuilding strategy, Canadian shipyards have not built submarines since World War I, and re-creating the industrial capital to do so would itself be a highly expensive proposition, as the Australians discovered with their own Collins-class submarine program.
Thankfully, the Victoria-class in-service support contract has allowed for the development of a local industrial ecosystem that will permit any acquired vessel to be supported and maintained. While the Victoria-class has been unfairly maligned in the court of public opinion and within the media, many of the problems associated with the class can be ascribed to the manner in which they were purchased and the dire state into which the submarine service had fallen by the late 1990s. We have a brief window of opportunity to ensure that these events are not repeated.
The government has announced that SSE will be reviewed shortly. In this review, Canada should make the call as to whether it wishes to maintain the capability. The longer the decision is postponed, the more likely it becomes that the Victoria-class will be the last such boats operated by the RCN.
That concludes my statement, and I'm prepared to receive any questions.
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Mitchell.
With that, we will start questions with Mr. Paul-Hus for six minutes.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, gentlemen, and thank you for being with us today.
Mr. Mitchell, I think that more and more people are beginning to understand that, strategically speaking, there is a threat coming from the north, from the Arctic sector. And Canada is a country surrounded by three oceans.
You do training, you train officers. So you are in direct contact with the military.
Based on the discussions you have had, are you able to understand why no one, at the political level, is showing any interest in moving quickly to acquire the submarine?
Why is there a disconnect between Canada's operational needs and the political decisions?
Paul Mitchell
View Paul Mitchell Profile
Paul Mitchell
2022-05-06 13:30
I'm sorry. I did not receive any of the interpretation on that. Again, I really apologize.
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
I've stopped the clock temporarily.
Mr. Paul-Hus, could you re-ask your question, please?
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay.
Gentlemen, thank you for being with us today.
Canada is surrounded by three oceans, and we know very well that, strategically speaking, there is a threat from the Arctic, from the north, and that the Russians and the Chinese are present in the area.
Mr. Mitchell, you are in contact with the military because you are involved in their training. You talk a lot with the military. From a strategic and military point of view, it is obvious that we need the submarine.
Could you explain to me why, on the political level, there does not seem to be a will in that regard? What would be the reason from a political point of view?
Paul Mitchell
View Paul Mitchell Profile
Paul Mitchell
2022-05-06 13:32
I think that any capability that is primarily organized around offensive operations is controversial for most Canadians. Because we are surrounded by three oceans and our southern border is guarded by a superpower, most Canadians believe, in effect, that we live in a gated community. Security is an afterthought for the majority of Canadians. I believe that the political system responds to this.
It is often difficult to articulate what exactly the threat to the Arctic is. There are threats that come through the Arctic in the form of missiles and possibly in the form of submarines, but by and large, our Arctic is fairly secure given the difficulty of operating up there.
In terms of the submarine threat, I think it is largely a hypothetical one. Certainly there is the possibility that the Russians, the Chinese or another nation—even one of our allies—might be able to put a submarine through there, but to what end is the principle concern. The ranges for things like submarine-launched ballistic missiles and the hypersonic cruise missiles some of them are capable of launching are such that really they aren't required to put a submarine to do such launches into our Arctic waters anymore, whereas during the 1960s that was not the case.
I think the submarine threat is largely a hypothetical one. It is possible that in the future, moving through Canadian waters might shorten the transit time for some submarine voyages and there might be a desire to do so. It would be a tricky manoeuvre, given the lack of information on hydrography and oceanography and the understanding of the bottom profile. The risk of grounding your sub or hitting the side of an underwater promontory or an island itself would be fairly significant.
That said, there is more to recommend submarines than simply the Arctic option. Clearly, they bring enormous capabilities in terms of strategic deterrents, in terms of their intelligence capability and especially in terms of the support to fleet operations for a whole variety of different functions that a Canadian task group might undertake while under way or train against prior to deployment.
All of those things recommend submarines, but explaining that to the Canadian public is a very challenging task. The technicalities of it and the levels of classification make it inherently difficult.
Paul Mitchell
View Paul Mitchell Profile
Paul Mitchell
2022-05-06 13:35
I think that explains why there is a lot of resistance to the notion of submarines, particularly because of the difficulty we've had in operationalizing them since 1998. I think that contributes to it as well.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay.
We don't necessarily have to wait for the public to understand these problems. I think there are some tactical and strategic decisions that simply have to be made by the government.
In our committee, we talk a lot about procurement. The purpose of the committee is also to identify ways to be efficient and to improve defence procurement. You say that if Canada decided to buy submarines, it would take a minimum of 15 to 20 years to get the first ones.
What would be the best way for the Government of Canada to acquire submarines more quickly?
Should we buy submarines from abroad and then maintain them here in Canada to reap the economic benefits?
Do you have any thoughts on how that could be done?
Paul Mitchell
View Paul Mitchell Profile
Paul Mitchell
2022-05-06 13:36
Unfortunately, there's no simple solution to submarine procurement, because of the complexity of the weapons system.
There are many different types of submarines available, both conventional and nuclear, but the options that are available from German, French or Spanish shipyards, and programs that are in development with Korea and Japan have been designed specifically for local requirements. Canadian submarines need to be ocean-going and globally deployable, rather than just simply operating in the littoral regions. That's why many European designs are not effective.
They need to have long endurance without access to support facilities. All of these things make designing a submarine specifically for Canadian requirements inherently difficult, and that is why—
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. I apologize for interrupting, but we are facing time constraints. If you have more you feel you can add to that answer, by all means, please submit it to the clerk in writing and he will disseminate it to all the committee members.
We'll now go to Mr. Housefather for six minutes.
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