Federal officials are examining an unofficial proposal to extend construction of the Arctic offshore patrol ships to keep the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard operating until the navy is ready to start building replacement frigates, CBC News has learned.
The discussions, according to several sources, have been quietly going on for months and involve adding two light icebreakers to the existing schedule, vessels that would be made available for the Canadian Coast Guard.
The cost of extending the current program would be roughly $600 million, said industry and government sources who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the file.
The idea has been extensively discussed at “the officials’ and [director general] level,” said one source with direct knowledge of the discussions.
Production of the current batch of Arctic patrol ships is expected to total six vessels and to begin to wind down in late 2019.
Documents obtained by CBC News under Access to Information legislation show — under the best scenario — the navy will only be ready to “cut steel” on its frigate replacements in June 2020.
But the briefing notes for Public Works Minister Judy Foote say holdups in the often-delayed frigate replacement program could push that date to March 2022 or beyond, leaving a potential gap of two years or more for work at the shipyard.
“The primary concern is the risk of an efficiency gap if construction of the final Arctic and offshore patrol ships winds down before construction of the first Canadian surface combatant begins,” said an Oct. 18, 2016, briefing.
That would mean scaling back the workforce at the yard and…