Budget officer takes aim at Tories' handling of long-delayed navy supply ships

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The Harper government has moved to blunt expected criticism of the navy's long-delayed supply ship program and its marquee shipbuilding strategy.

Senior officials at Public Works, who oversee the National Shipbuilding Strategy, held a technical briefing ahead of the release of a report Thursday by the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page.

The report will say the program to replace the navy's 45-year-old supply ships is not affordable given the inadequate $2.6 billion set aside by government.

But senior Public Works officials, who spoke on background, insisted the program remains on track to deliver two, possibly three ships by 2018-19.

Page's stinging criticism of the F-35 stealth fighter ignited a political controversy that ultimately resulted in the Conservatives' re-examination of the multibillion-dollar program.

The navy supply ships were first ordered by the Paul Martin government in 2004, but initial proposals by shipyards were deemed too expensive by the Harper government in 2008.

The program was forced to go back to square one with a drastic scaling back of the capabilities the navy wanted for the ships.

Page's report is expected to show that when inflation is factored in, the new, less capable ships will cost more than if the government had stuck with the original plan.