S.O.S. Save Our Shipbuilding
By Snowden Walters
Calgary, Alberta (formerly of Outer Cove)
I am a Canadian, a Newfoundlander and a shipbuilder. I have worked for more than a quarter-century in the North American marine design industry in shipyards, field operations and design offices with offshore, military and other commercial ventures. I've been part of many teams working to improve designs until our "lady" is christened and launched.
In this industry we always refer to a ship as a lady, but these past few years I have come to fear that she is in trouble. It is amazing to consider how Canada, which at the end of WWII had the largest merchant marine on the planet, has let its shipbuilding industry fall so far behind. Evidence of this is obvious, from the boatyards of our coastal communities to Quebec's shipyards and Ontario's industrial heartland.
Under the guise of cost savings, our government buys garbage vessels from third-world countries and then spends to have them brought up to our minimum standards. The argument is that it's cheaper to do this than to build them ourselves.
Hogwash! In the long term if we design and construct our own vessels we keep our naval architects and designers at home. Our shipyards, tradespeople and service industries are kept busy, and maintenance costs stay in the country, which not only lowers initial price, but also brings additional benefits to the service sector.
We have everything we need: minerals to provide the materials; energy to power the undertaking; skills to engineer solutions to every situation that arises; infrastructure; and a national workforce.
On the world stage we are part of the elite G8 club. We meet annually with other members and develop policies affecting everything on Earth. We are amongst the most advanced technological societies in the world. We have brilliant academics, ooze natural resources, lead in medicine and we have talent.
We also occupy one of the most diverse and richest geographical regions in the world with coastlines on no less than three oceans. However, one of those we can barely venture into. Our claim to sovereignty over our waters, in particular the Arctic, will remain the joke it is today if we cannot even provide ourselves with ships to ply them. It is clearly time we take control of our shipbuilding and lose our reliance on countries whose interests are not Canadian.
And what better place to build ships than Newfoundland and Labrador? The southern tip of the island juts into year-round ice-free waters, while the northern tip of Labrador tickles the underbelly of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. We have always been associated with the water. Since Europeans "discovered" this place, seafaring nations have walked our shores, fought on our waves and reaped our bounty. Neighbours to the west, the Maritime provinces, the New England states and those up the St. Lawrence have been part of our history - a history that is a direct result of shipbuilding.
We do our ancestors, ourselves and all our descendants a disservice if we let it falter. Opportunity is within our grasp to revive shipbuilding in this province and in Canada. Every avenue should be considered. The offshore search for fish and oil, the mining interest on land, as well as the world's appetite for adventure are all reasons for a resurgence in the design and construction of ships.
Our tough environment offers us opportunities to develop vessels capable of venturing anywhere and undertaking any activity. We should embrace the opportunity. Reviving our shipbuilding industry will breathe new life into our society and culture. Our grandchildren should be able to look upon us as the ones who mapped the future.
I am urging everyone to do what they can to help shipbuilding in the province and in this country. We have all that we need. What remains is simply to do it.
If you think Canada should invest more in its shipbuilding and want to help make that happen, write a letter of support (or send a copy of this article) to your MP or to the Minister of Industry, the Hon. Maxime Bernier. You can e-mail him at Minister.Industry@ic.gc.ca; fax 613-992-0302; or write to Maxime Bernier, Minister of Industry, 5th Floor, West Tower, C.D. Howe Building, 235 Queen St., Ottawa, ON, K1A 0H5.