A series of new preliminary contracts announced by the government will go toward developing joint support ships, a new polar icebreaker and offshore fisheries science vessels, the Public Works Department said.
But the $15.7 million allocation to Seaspan's Vancouver shipyard was described by experts as too little and the work assigned judged to be preliminary. The entire shipbuilding program is expected to cost more than $33 billion.
Officials counter the national shipbuilding procurement strategy when fully implemented will create 15,000 jobs across the country and bring more than $2 billion a year in economic benefits over the next three decades.
Critics say the $2 billion a year cited in accrued benefits may be insufficient in view of the long time span.
Allocations under the latest contracts will be used to assess design options for Canada's long-drawn joint support ship program, the polar icebreaker and offshore fisheries science vessels. Some of the funding is expected to go into producing plans for actual shipbuilding, materials and labor.
The government announcement "tries to sound like it's moving forward with shipbuilding, but what it really boils down to" is an invitation to the shipbuilding industry for further input on design-related technical issues, Defense Industry Daily said on its website.
The CCGS John G. Diefenbaker polar icebreaker aims to replace the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent heavy icebreaker. The fisheries science vessels are to replace CCGS Teleost, CCGS Alfred Needler and CCGS W. E. Ricker.
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said the national shipbuilding procurement strategy aims "to support Canadian jobs and industries, while bolstering the Canadian economy by building ships right here in Canada."
National Defense Minister Peter MacKay said the program aims to ensure both the navy and the coast guard "have the equipment they need to do the work we ask of them."
Criticism of Canadian shipbuilding plans has centered both on spending and speed. Canada is finding it needs to assert its authority in the arctic region amid competition from Russia and Nordic countries.
That competition has heated up amid scientific findings the frozen continent may soon be navigable in parts and that the region's untapped mineral resources may be up for grabs amid competing sovereignty claims.
Canadians are worried that Russian plans to spend $137 billion by 2020 on naval growth will dwarf Canada's $33 billion shipbuilding program, the Toronto Sun said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Russian navy will have an increased presence "in regions like the arctic."
Russian plans call for increased air and naval patrols of a region that skirts Canadian borders.
Recent Chinese naval forays into the arctic waters highlighted Canada's apparent lack of readiness for unknown challenges from the two powers.
Canada's current program for new diesel-electric submarines has come in for criticism as being inadequate for arctic defense challenges.