VICTORIA, British Columbia — While Canadian firms stand to lose business with the country's withdrawal from the F-35 program, its maritime industry is expecting a potential windfall from the change of direction in defense.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to put more money into Canada's ailing naval shipbuilding program, including any savings from selecting a cheaper alternative to the F-35 fighter jet. Maritime industry officials said that could mean more ships and more work.
Trudeau promised the shift in defense priorities during the recent federal election campaign. His government was elected Oct. 19 and took power Nov. 4.
Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was defeated by Trudeau, had earlier dismissed the Liberal promise to spend more money on shipbuilding as unnecessary, noting that his government originally put enough funding into NSPS.
"Canada is immensely lucky to have the longest coastline in the world and Canadians expect we give our Navy the proper tools to protect that coastline," he said.
Cairns, however, noted that it was rare that a Canadian government would specifically make promises during an election about shipbuilding and rebuilding the Navy.
In particular, there is concern about the lack of funding for the Canadian Surface Combatant program, the replacement fleet for the country's frigates and destroyers, he noted.
Industry will be closely watching what Trudeau does with that program, Cairns added.
Trudeau said his government's commitment to supporting the Navy would ensure it "will once again be able to operate as a blue water fleet and remain so well into the future."
But he welcomed the Liberal Party government's commitment to the Navy and the shipbuilding industry.
"What's happening in the shipbuilding industry in Canada is truly great," Carter said, referring to the NSPS. "To have government understand the need to make that a success over the long term and to have government support that is another shot in the arm for the industry."
Cairns, however, cautioned that even if the new government contributes more funding to the shipbuilding program, it doesn't mean construction will proceed at a faster rate.
"People have to realize that the federal government and government departments are all inexperienced in large shipbuilding projects like this," Cairns said.
He noted that the last time Canada's industry built large warships was in the 1990s.
The Conservative government has faced criticism for its naval shipbuilding plan. No ship under NSPS has yet been completed, and only two have been started.
In 2007, Harper announced that up to eight AOPS would be constructed and in the water by 2013. But that program fell behind schedule, and the number of ships to be built dropped to five.
The first AOPS will be ready by 2018. The last ship will be delivered by 2022. The Canadian Surface Combatants won't be built until after 2022.
David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.