Just when we thought the F-35 Fiscal Fiasco had gone away…
Welcome to Fiscal Fiasco Round Two – and this time it’s really important, because we’re talking about ships. Earlier this spring the Canadian government announced that it was paying Irving Shipyards $288 million just to design the new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) for the Royal Canadian Navy. Not build, just design. Click here for the CBC report on the announcement:
Now I’m a former naval officer, and I appreciate well-designed ships. I also have nearly a decade of experience working in private industry selling high-tech systems to the military (full disclosure: I don’t sell weapons) and I know well that complex engineering projects don’t just happen – they need to be designed first. But it’s not like Irving is taking their blue pencil to a completely blank drawing board: the government already paid $5 million for an existing design that was used to build an Arctic Patrol Vessel for the Norwegian Navy. Sure, we have to “Canadianize” it (for who knows what glaring errors those poor, benighted Norwegian designers might have made – it’s not like Norway ever builds ships or anything) but as the linked article reports, the design costs for other vessels similar to the AOPS cost no more than $20 million. So where does the $288 million go?
Just to reiterate: we’re not talking about doubling, or even tripling, the typical design cost. We’re talking about fourteen times the amount.
Being a political moderate who leans more to the right than the left when it comes to government philosophy, my gut instinct is to shrug and say something like, “Oh well, there must be a reason – these things are complicated and I’m sure the media is exaggerating a bit.” But beyond the extraordinary gulf between 20 and 288, what really bugged me about this was the fact that, when questioned by reporters, neither government minister at the podium could give a clear answer. It was waffle-waffle-this and waffle-waffle-that. The closest I know of to an actual answer was offered by Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose (quoted from the linked article):
“We are implementing what’s called a design and then build strategy,” the minister told CBC News. “What that means is that we are spending more money up front on the design and production phase. That’s important because we want to make sure that the shipyards, and the navy, and the coast guard, get the design correct.”
Okay, so we’re spending more up front. On what? What? Tell us, Rona! What on Earth costs $288 million before a single rivet is driven into a hull plate? There must be an answer, so why is it so hard to lay it out? According to the article, the journalists were cut off by government “media handlers” before too long and the politicians were whisked away. Why? This is a pretty obvious question that should have a pretty obvious answer. Are we paying for training? For consultants? For trips to Norway to ride on their ice-breaker and see if we like it? What? All of a sudden, I’m suspicious.
We have an election underway here in British Columbia, so I offer this bit of advice to everyone who will be elected to the new legislature: know your stuff, and give straight answers – even if they’re unpleasant answers. The vast majority of Canadians would rather hear an unpleasant but complete truth than a waffly and opaque “key message”. To the soon-to-be politicians in my province, please learn from Fiasco Round Two at the Federal level and remember what it was like when you were just a citizen. If you tell the truth, you’re always going to make somebody unhappy. But if you dodge and weave and ultimately say nothing, you’re always going to make everyone unhappy.
AOPS rendering copyright Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada
Mackay & Ambrose photo copyright the Calgary Herald
Recent Bennett R. Coles Articles:
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part 4 – The traditional industry: the bookstores (and distributors)
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part III – The Traditional Industry: The Publishers
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part II – Making sense of the lingo
- A No-BS Tour of Modern Publishing Part I – Author Motivations
- Star Wars: The Next Generation