OTTAWA — Canadian taxpayers will foot the bill for repairs to the engines on at least two of the Royal Canadian Navy's brand-new Arctic patrol vessels because the one-year warranty on those vessels has expired.
Defence Department deputy minister Bill Matthews delivered the news during an appearance before the House of Commons public accounts committee on Monday, shortly before the department reported the repairs will end up taking longer than expected.
"The warranty on the AOPS (Arctic offshore patrol ships) is one year after in-service," Matthews said. "You have two vessels that have exceeded that one-year point. So reading the warranty purely, that would be on National Defence to pay."
The revelation represents yet another blow to Canada's troubled military procurement system, which has struggled to deliver functional new equipment to the Canadian Armed Forces without delays or cost overruns.
The Canadian Press reported last week that Ottawa is also on the hook for repairs to the Royal Canadian Air Force's Cyclone helicopters, one of which crashed off the coast of Greece in 2020, killing six Armed Forces members.
The government plans to buy eight Arctic patrol vessels from Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, including six for the Navy and two for the Canadian Coast Guard. Ottawa is paying $5 billion for the naval vessels and $1.6 billion for the coast guard ships.
Three of the vessels have been delivered to the military, starting with HMCS Harry DeWolf in July 2020, which Navy commanders hailed as the start of a new era. HMCS Margaret Brooke was delivered in July 2021 and HMCS Max Bernays in September 2022.
Matthews told the committee that it will be up to Irving to fix the problems on HMCS Max Bernays and the others as they are still under warranty.
He also appeared to leave open the possibility of trying to recoup some of the repair costs from Irving, saying he wanted to take a close look at the results of a technical investigation into the problems afflicting the vessels.
"If you read the warranty to the letter, it's in our hands," he said. "But I want to take a look at the technical report."
The latest problems on the Arctic patrol vessels emerged in August, when HMCS Harry DeWolf was forced to cancel a planned training exercise in the Far North and return home to Halifax due to a generator failure.
Preliminary reports eventually identified issues with the engine cooling system as well as the drinking water system on the vessels, whose costs have skyrocketed since then-prime minister Stephen Harper first announced plans to build the fleet in 2007.
Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said the full investigation, which was launched in September and completed last month, confirmed the root causes of the problem with the engine cooling system.
Officials are now working to fix the problems, which will include flushing the four main diesel generators that provide the ships with power and propulsion after the engines have been repaired.
Lamirande did not say how much the repairs will cost, but did indicated that it was unlikely the Defence Department would meet its original timeline of having HMCS Harry DeWolf and HMCS Margaret Brooke back in the water by April.
Repairs are also being made to the system used to deliver drinking water, which was found to have elevated levels of lead due to the alloys used on certain fittings and valves. The problem meant crew members had to be issued bottled water.
Negotiations are underway between the government and Irving over the costs of those repairs, Lamirande said.
Matthews was appearing before the public accounts committee as it was conducting hearings into an auditor general's report from last year that found significant gaps in Canada's ability to monitor and police its Arctic waters.
Members of Parliament repeatedly pushed Matthews for more details on reports that China had deployed surveillance buoys in Canada's Arctic waters. He declined to answer for reasons of national security.
Deputy auditor general Andrew Hayes told MPs that the Defence Department did not tell his staff about the buoys, whose existence became public only weeks after a suspected Chinese spy balloon flew through Canadian airspace.
Hayes would not comment on the balloon or buoys, but did reiterate the urgent need to close the gaps in Canada's Arctic surveillance capabilities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press