Canadian icebreaker project estimated at $7.25 billion

A file photo of the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent refueling the CCGS Pierre Radisson near Frobisher Bay in Canada’s eastern Arctic. The two planned vessels are intended to replace the Canadian Coast Guard’s principal heavy icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, which is almost 55 years old. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates the government’s plan to build two new heavy icebreakers could cost up to $7.25 billion. 

“We estimate the total cost of the icebreaker project at $7.25 billion, inclusive of project management costs of $346 million, design costs of $820 million, and acquisition costs of $6.1 billion”,  Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said in a news release on Thursday. 

The Liberal government announced its plan to build two new ships back in May under Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy.

The first ship is to be built at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver, British Columbia in western Canada, while construction of the second ship will be by Davie Shipbuilding in Lévis, Quebec.

The plan for one new icebreaker was first announced by the then Conservative government in 2008 to replace the aging Louis S. St. Laurent vessel and was estimated to cost  $720 million.

The most recent government estimate was in 2013 and was put at $1.3 billion.

An update from the Parliamentary Budget Officer on Thursday, said the government had not yet released an updated estimate since.

Long procurement process costing taxpayers billions

But before the federal election this spring, the Liberal government announced it would build two vessels, saying climate change, increased commercial shipping and growing maritime activity in the North warranted the more robust infrastructure investment.

Giroux says the Parliamentary Budget office says it assumes construction of the first ship will begin in the 2023-2024 fiscal year, with construction of the second ship getting underway in 2024-2025, and that delays could further jack up costs. 

“A sensitivity analysis suggests that delays of either one or two years in the start of the construction for both vessels at each partner shipyard would increase total project costs by $235 million or $472 million, respectively,” Giroux said.

The nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika is seen drawn by tug boats as it starts the sea trials, in Saint Petersburg, Russia December 12, 2019. Is Canada keeping up with Russia and China’s ability to operate in the Arctic? (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

Delivery of the first vessel is expected in in the 2029-2030 fiscal year, with the second vessel expected in 2030-2031.

Canada’s long procurement process has long been criticized as it incurs stratospheric costs to taxpayers. On the icebreaker file, the ongoing delays have already cost Canadians several billion dollars more than the initial $720 million price tag.

Meanwhile, in the same period, Russia continues to bolster it’s icebreaker fleet and non-Arctic countries like China have upped its activity in the Arctic with upgrades to the Xue Long 1 icebreaking research ship, the launch of Xue Long 2 in 2019, and the announcement this month that it would add a third vessel to its fleet.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada:  44 per cent increase in unique ships entering Canada’s Northwest Passage, says report, Eye on the Arctic

China: China to build third icebreaker, The Independent Barents Observer

Denmark/Greenland: New guideline launched for Arctic-specific risk assessment in shipping, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland’s aging icebreaker fleet needs modernization, Yle News

Iceland: Int’l Arctic emergency marine exercise will lead to better response coordination, say participants, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: The Viking Sky incident – A wake-up call for the Arctic cruise industry?, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: More icebreakers coming to aid Russian Arctic ships in need, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: ‘Uber for icebreakers’ idea gains traction in U.S. Senate,

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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