Reaction to talks of moving Pacific fleet command from CFB Esquimalt to Halifax was swift from the federal campaign trail last week.
The Conservative and NDP camps have vowed, if elected, to not centralize control of Canadian naval ships on the East Coast, even as the navy forges ahead with identifying ways to reorganize itself for efficiency and cost savings.
“If re-elected, our government will not be taking this action. I will not allow this move,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement last Thursday. “The command and control of the Pacific fleet will stay in the Pacific, at Esquimalt.”
“Does that mean not one job is going to go from Esquimalt east?” said Alex Morrison, defence expert and Royal Roads University associate professor. “Does that mean not one ship is going to be transferred from Esquimalt to Halifax?
“Those are the detailed questions that need to be asked now and after the election is over.”
If command of naval ships at CFB Esquimalt were shuttled to Halifax, as it was in the 1980s, the fallout would be disastrous, according to the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. It could eventually mean job losses at the base and fewer naval ships on the West Coast, as well as hindering West Coast trading strength, said chamber CEO Bruce Carter.
“The management focus will be on the Halifax operations in the Atlantic, which means more resources, more ships, perhaps more operational dollars, more fuel and less of everything here, because it’s not front of mind,” said Carter, a former military member. “We have seen that repeatedly with corporate takeovers and I don’t think this will be any different.”
Union reps for base civilian infrastructure and ship maintenance workers have known of the naval reorganization since last year, but were assured their workers wouldn’t be impacted by fleet command changes.
“Essentially, what they’re shooting for as the defence dollar gets tighter (is) they want to ensure that they’re spending the money the best way possible,” said Mark Miller, B.C vice-president of the Union of National Defence Employees, which represents 1,200 of the 2,000 civilians at CFB Esquimalt.