By Derek Ferguson|
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau
OTTAWA - The federal government is buying four diesel-electric submarines from Britain for $750 million, a move that military officials say will eventually enhance Canada's presence in the Arctic.
"These submarines are a great purchase for Canada, giving our navy a vital capability at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost," Defence Minister Art Eggleton said yesterday.
"It will not require new money. We will pay for the submarines from our current defence budget," said Eggleton, who made the announcement in Halifax. A text of his remarks was released in Ottawa.
The four British Upholder submarines were purchased through an eight-year interest-free, lease-to-buy arrangement with Britain that will cost $610 million. The remaining $140 million will be spent on training simulators, spare parts, a technical data package and training.
The new subs, to be delivered over two years beginning in 2000, will replace Canada's three 30-year-old Oberon submarines, expanding the navy's underwater fleet to have a permanent presence on the West Coast and enhancing Arctic operations.
The British Upholders, built in the early 1990s at a cost of $500 million each, were declared surplus after the Royal Navy decided to focus on nuclear-powered subs.
REFORM PRAISES PURCHASEReform MP Art Hanger (Calgary Northeast) welcomed the purchase, but the Bloc Québécois and peace groups slammed it as a waste of money.
"It's about time," Hanger said. "This deal is a step toward renewing Canada's marine security net."
Bloc MP Pierrette Venne (St. Bruno-St. Hubert) said it is unjustifiable to purchase submarines at a time when the federal government has "slashed billions in provincial transfers for health, education and welfare."
"In the absence of a direct threat to Canada, the surveillance capacity provided by present surface vessels and aircraft is more than adequate," she said.
Ernie Regehr of the peace group Project Ploughshares at the University of Waterloo echoed Venne.
"Canada has major capability with surface ships and aircraft to maintain full surveillance," he said in a telephone interview from Waterloo.
But Lieutenant-Commander Dermot Mulholland, who captains one of the Oberons, said in a telephone interview from Halifax that submarines are a necessary third prong of Canada's shoreline surveillance along with aircraft and surface ships.
"They are misinformed," he said of the critics. "One of our main tasks is looking for surface ships. Without submarines we really lack the capability for effective surveillance."
Mulholland said the new subs will enhance the navy's ability to patrol the Arctic, much of which until now has been off limits because the Oberons do not have the capacity to stay under ice.
The new fleet can be retrofitted with a new technology that is being developed by Ballard Technologies of Vancouver that could enable the new boats to spend up to four weeks under the ice without surfacing.
"Air independent propulsion will give us the capability at some point in the future to operate for several weeks at a time without operating the air breathing engine, and that would enable us to go under the ice," Mulholland said.
Nuclear submarines from the United States, Britain and Russia routinely venture under the ice unmonitored.
In recent years, Canadian scientists have had to rely on U.S. nuclear submarines to collect water samples from the Arctic Ocean in critical pollution-related studies.
New Democratic Party Leader Alexa McDonough called the purchase "dubious" because of the need to rely on undeveloped technology that has yet to have a price tag.
"Patrolling the Arctic (with the new subs) is not even possible without expensive modifications," she said.