Matt Gurney: Remember when the Liberals said the navy was a priority? Did they mean the canoe?

Justin Trudeau’s paddle about in a canoe seems to be as close as we’ll come this election to hearing much from the Liberals about the navy.

This isn’t surprising, exactly, for several reasons. But it sure does make a change from 2015 — but then again, given how radically different the Liberal effort is this time, I suppose that’s not much of a shock, either.

Back in 2015, the navy came in for some special attention in the Liberal platform. The Liberals campaigned on not purchasing the F-35 fighter jet for the Royal Canadian Air Force, contrary to the Conservative plan, and said they’d direct that money instead to the Royal Canadian Navy, which was in desperate need of new ships to replace an aging fleet. There was a whole little subsection in their 2015 platform, titled “We will make investing in the Royal Canadian Navy a top priority.”

“By purchasing more affordable alternatives to the F-35s,” the platform pledged, “we will be able to invest in strengthening our Navy, while also meeting the commitments that were made as part of the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy. Unlike Stephen Harper, we will have the funds that we need to build promised icebreakers, supply ships, arctic and offshore patrol ships, surface combatants, and other resources required by the Navy.”

And how’s that going, you may wonder?

The Liberals campaigned on not purchasing the F-35 fighter jet for the Royal Canadian Air Force, contrary to the Conservative plan, and said they’d direct that money instead to the Royal Canadian Navy

Not terribly. But also not fantastic. No icebreakers have been built, nor has construction on any even begun. As recently as just a few months ago, Ottawa was still “exploring options” to get these vital ships procured. The supply ships are a uniquely bizarre slow-mo disaster: with the project falling behind schedule, the government has decided to shuffle what order all of its needed ships will be built in. One supply ship will be rushed into service, but no details are available as to when that’ll actually happen.

Then the second will wait until some science ships are finished for oceanographic work. That probably means both supply vessels won’t be in service for a full decade, at best. Good thing we leased that civilian ship to convert into a supply ship (those who followed the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman fiasco will remember just how unenthusiastic the Liberals were about that plan, which is currently saving the fleet’s bacon).

The Arctic and Offshore patrol ships are coming along, slowly. The first has been launched and is in the final stages of fitting out; three more are under construction and two more are on order. So that’s not nothing, but it’s also not spectacular. The same can be said about our next generation of major surface vessel — 15 new heavy warships, built to a British design. The design was settled upon only earlier this year, and no work is expected to start, at the earliest, until the first part of the next decade. So not a lot happening there.