Canada’s Navy has been sinking

by Diane Francis

Old Canadian submarine

Canada’s navy is comprised of hard working personnel, but has been gutted over the years. To counteract this, the navy should be merged with the Canadian Coast Guard, suggested military expert Honorary Colonel Fred P. Mannix of Calgary in a recent email.

He pointed out:

1. “At the end of World War II the Royal Canadian Navy had 332 ships and was the third largest navy in the world. Today Canada has 21 combatant ships.”

2. “However, Canada has 121 ships in the Coast Guard and RCMP. The deterrence value of a 142 ship navy would put Canada back in the ranks as a naval power. Ideally, there would be a cost-saving by rolling all the headquarters into one – the Royal Canadian Navy.”

The Royal Navy has rejected a merger on the basis that the Coast Guard’s fleet is poorly maintained and that they are not a seafaring police department, as is the Guard. Besides that, the Navy is manned with military personnel while the Coast Guard has a unionized, 9-to-5 workforce involved in interdiction, smuggling and rescue operations.

The real solution, of course, is to create a navy equivalent to the task of guarding Canada, which has more coastlines than any ten countries combined. But military or defence expenditures are very unpopular in Quebec and among some Canadians. Instead, Canada is woefully inadequate in terms of its naval support and relies on the Americans to protect the country’s shores.

Even worse, the Coast Guard is falling into the same cost cutting as has gutted the navy. “If the Coast Guard role were part of the Canada Navy role, the proposed ships should be designed for Navy/Coast Guard interdiction, fighting and deterrence roles. Canada should have a continuous program for ship building so the shipyards do not have a constant start up and retraining problem,” wrote Mannix.

“A larger number of ships will contribute to Canada’s international stature and add weight to our image abroad,” he added.

And Canada sure has a long, long way to go: The Canadian Navy has 8,500 personnel. The American navy has 317,000. Of course, the United States patrols the world, while Canada’s navy patrols its own jurisdiction. But even so, the gap is not only noticeable but embarrassing.


While I completely agree with the basic premise of this article (we need a stronger maritime force as a large maritime nation), there has been a serious misunderstanding of the roles the RCN and Coast Guard play in Canada.  You mention 21 combatants, there are in fact only 15 surface combatants, and 4 submarines.  All other ships in the RCN are not combatants.  The two Tankers have no ability to conduct combat at all, save the most basic level of self-defence with machine guns.  Secondly, the 121 Coast Guard and RCMP ships is a very misleading number.  Very few of those are truly "ships", most are much smaller life boats used for local search and rescue and many small boats used for fisheries research.  The RCMP only operates 4 small patrol boats, not really what I would consider ships and certainly very limited ability to venture out into the ocean.  The role of the Navy is the sea element of the Canadian Forces, it is not meant to be used in law enforcement against Canadians, that is an RCMP job.  Likewise, the CCG is not a law enforcement agency, its mandate is safe maritime navigation and research.  It focuses on maintaining navigation buoys, watching fish stocks, and ice breaking, jobs for which the navy is not at all qualified.  So while I agree we need a more robust Navy, and perhaps a beefed up RCMP marine unit, it is a preposterous idea to merge the CCG, RCN, and RCMP marine units.  Too many people picture the US Coast Guard as what the Coast Guard is like, but the US Coast Guard is both a branch of the US military, and a law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security.