Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Roger Sarty

Advisor Role



In December 1977, the Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau authorized the Department of National Defence to begin the acquisition of new warships for the navy. The decision to acquire fully combat capable warships was a shocking decision which marked the conclusion of a remarkable turnaround in Canadian defence policy. The navy, which had grown into a substantial and capable force during the early Cold War in the 1950s, had been in a steady decline since the mid-1960s as a result of the shifts in defence policy, cuts in personnel, and still deeper cuts to the capital funding needed to replace the many aging ships in the fleet. Furthermore, the government’s priority was the peacetime enforcement of Canadian laws and regulations, a role that could be carried out more efficiently by lightly armed vessels. The fulfillment of the nation’s wartime NATO responsibilities, which required the substantially more capable ship that it chose to acquire instead, was a secondary concern for the Trudeau government. Nevertheless, it opted to acquire fully combat capable warships for both military and political reasons. This marked the beginning of the largest procurement project in the country’s history, and one that was both innovative and successful. The result was a contract for six state-of-the art frigates, which was awarded to Saint John Shipbuilding, a shipyard based in Saint John, New Brunswick, in August 1983.

The Canadian Patrol Frigate (CPF) program was certainly a much belated and necessary effort to save the navy from “rust out.” As this thesis argues, however, political considerations well beyond those pertinent to the formulation of Canada’s defence policy were critically important in the bold decisions to procure sophisticated warships, and, moreover, to design and build them in Canada at a time when the necessary expertise had been severely eroded by the long hiatus in warship construction. In a democratic society such as Canada, which has a particularly strong tradition of civilian supremacy over the military, politics and defence matters are inseparable. The political leadership not only controls the objectives of the armed forces, but also the means to achieve them. Unsurprisingly, military procurement programs, with the large economic spinoffs at stake, are fraught with political interference in most nations. The CPFs were no exception, as this thesis will demonstrate through an examination of both the military and political developments leading to the acquisition of the ships, and the method of their design and construction. The program was born and shaped by the intersection of defence requirements and the political interest of Cabinet to muster the support of the electorate by stimulating economic development in ways that would both modernize domestic industries and bolster employment in the less prosperous regions in the country.

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