According to the information I have on hand, our Canadian flag merchant fleet has declined from being the fourth biggest in the world after WW II to 34th place in 1993 and now by the latest tallies, to 69th place! We are now behind even landlocked countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg as well as third world countries such as North Korea, Libya and Pakistan! And we now have one half the shipyards we had 15 years ago.
A sorry state of affairs to say the very least, as we not only have to rely 99% on foreign flagged ships to get our goods to the markets but we have also steadily lost our shipyards and the jobs that go with them.
How this happened is too long to get into here but let me state we have to stop trying to re-invent the wheel so to speak. We did it with our naval destroyers of the sixties, seventies, eighties and now the nineties, always under the promise of export sales accruing and boom times coming for everyone in the industry. And now we see B.C. Ferries doing the same thing first with their S Class Ferries and now with their high speed catamarans. Fact is we are 3-5 years behind every one else building these craft and on a very slow learning curve just as we were with the navy ships. And we have yet to sell one abroad, if we indeed ever do so.
And once we do learn, where and how will we sell them? Certainly not in the U.S. where the Jones Act in spite of NAFTA, reserves that market for U.S. built ships only. And besides, they have very generous government backed financing schemes in the U.S.A. and in the real commercial world that counts.
And not overseas to our neighbors in the Asian world. They are already turning out more advanced models at one half to thirds the price.
If Canada is to survive as a Sovereign Maritime Nation its must wake up to the real world and get some perspective. We can be competitive but we must stop kidding ourselves about government run shipbuilding programs. THEY JUST DONT WORK.
As they are finding in the U.S. and western Europe these days, far more economical and productive to farm government requirements out to the private sector. We have done so in Canada in the past, why not again? The ferry CONFEDERATION was built this way as was the icebreaker, submersible support research ship, PANDORA II, both highly effective, inexpensive and successful ships. And in the military field we see the VIGILANT class being turned out by the private sector at a good fraction of the price it would have been by any government in the western world.
And why not some government financing and investment incentives (as opposed to subsidies) as they have in Europe and the United States?
We have what it takes and we can have a healthy industry if our governments wake up the fact that we have one of the longest coastlines in the world, and an exclusive Economic Zone approaching 10 million sq. kilometers and a healthy marine industry will reward the country and provide employment in countless ways in the future.
So this is a wake up call to the industry-get after your MLA or MP before the marine industry in Canada sinks out of sight forever. We can do our technical bit but we need a government that understands and its up to us to educate them before its too late. We need NAFTA modified to eliminate the Jones Act anomaly for starters - lets do it.
Article provided by C.Robert Ward, Victoria, B.C. To express your views please visit our Discussion Forum