Defence department under-budgeted cots of replacing Navy ships, says federal budget officer

Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page



OTTAWA - Parliament's budget watchdog warns the Department of National Defence doesn't have enough money to buy a pair of new supply ships.

"They need more money to set aside to avoid risk of program failure," Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said in his latest assessment.

Page said the complexity of so-called "joint support ships" and the lack of Canadian expertise to build them make it more realistic to set aside $4.1 billion for them instead of the government's $2.6 billion budget.

The new ships are supposed to replace the 40-year-old HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver, which carry fuel, personnel and supplies to support Canadian Forces missions.

Page said sticking to the $2.6 billion budget puts the navy in a straightjacket.

"An option could be taking requirements away and having less requirements for the joint support ship than was originally envisioned, or an option could be let's spend a little bit more money," Page said.

The NDP's Jack Harris mocked the government.

"Conservative incompetence on managing military projects is mind-boggling," Harris said.

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said she's confident in the shipbuilding process because it's still early and there is independent oversight.

"Let's remember that these ships are in the design phase,"  Ambrose said. "If any adjustments need to be made, they will be made with the navy and the coast guard."

The government hopes to have the first of its new supply ships in the water by 2018.

- with files from David Akin

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