John Thomas

Tags:  histories interview 
Author: Don Wilson
Published: Apr 22nd 2017
Updated: 4 years ago

Interviewee John F Thomas
Interviewers: Don Wilson and Tony Thatcher
Date of Interview: 3 February 2016
Location of Interview: Ottawa, Ontario
Transcribed by: Jennifer Daly and Joy Thatcher

Preamble: John Thomas describes what important lessons he learned and what his accomplishments were starting as a Naval Architect in the Navy and continuing in DND Headquarters and government and industry.

INTERVIEWER: John’s had a distinguished career in the Navy, the Public Service and private industry and for a time he was president of Saint John Shipbuilding. This interview covers a number of important events and programs for the Navy, including the hydrofoil, the arrival and first refit of the O-Boats and the Canadian Patrol Frigate [CPF].

I’ll ask John to introduce himself and briefly describe his career over the time period of this interview.

THOMAS: Thanks Tony, I started my career in the Navy doing my engineering Part 1, Part 2 on, on FRASER, SAGUENAY and for a period I was even a Weapons Officer on the JONQUIERE and it was while I was in South America on SAGUENAY that I got a message that I was being appointed to England for three or four years of post-graduate work, which I thought was my shipborne buddy sending me a note all in jest because nobody sends a message for three or four years. I came back and sure enough it was true! And so I went off to England and a real state of change, exactly as we are now, in that I started off over at Manadon, spending my time down at the Devonport Dockyard. Then I went up to Greenwich, spent a year there doing Naval Architecture. And then they had decided by that time that we would finish our Masters and so it was at the University College of London and so I was the first group going through that.

I came back from that and I was just full of piss and vinegar and ready to take on the world because I’d been educating now since forever. And I came back and the first job I got into was in the Hydrofoil. Dudley Alan was the Project Manager and Jim Knox was the Project Systems Engineer and I was there as the Naval Architect. We had been doing trials and the main thing that happened while I was there was the main foil cracked and I got involved in replacing the main foil with de Havilland and looking at some of the problems that I thought were involved in that and building it like an aircraft wing does not support the kinds of stresses that we were under and then the rough weather trials after that.

The Hydrofoil then left to, or I left rather, and went over to the deep diving systems and we were looking at, we had just bought a submersible and Nigel Brodeur was the Commander; it was the Forward Design group and we were looking for a mother ship, a tender if you like, for the submersible and because we were doing deep diving we wanted to be able to recover the submersible and put it on a ship and then put the men into a, the divers, into a diving chamber and so we started on that approach and while I was there I did the preliminary design for DCIEM and their diving systems because they were going to be the place where we did our training and testing and so on. So deep diving systems; I was there as the project manager for that and progressed from there to the Staff College.

First of all, down at the coast I was the Assistant Naval Architect and then I was the Production Operations Officer which again was a fantastic job in that I was able to put, actually put a lot of my education and background in engineering into practice. And we looked at everything from submarine refits, two of these were just coming in; the hydrofoil was there and we had a drydock for that; we had all the work that was going on in the ships. So I felt like I was in the centre of it with the small team that I had, of about 20 people and, for measure, it just couldn’t have been a better job.

And I went up Staff College and while I was in Staff College in Toronto I finally got my mind opened up to a much broader perspective and the military and the Navy’s place within the military and while I was doing that I thought I think I’m going to get out of the Navy and there was a question book and I came back and I felt that I was going to have to do my MBA before I was going to get out.

And when I came back they appointed me into, again, the Forward Design Group and this was looking at ship replacement at large, so it was everything from the AORs, to the 280s, to the helicopters, the submarines, it was a large, large package of over 25 years of ship replacement. And the first group of ships was the Frigates and when we started with the Frigates it wasn’t clear whether they were ASW or they were surface or they were doing some multi-purpose. I was to take the first seven out, which then grew to the first 12 and then I was appointed to the Frigate office. I was the first one in the Frigate office in fact. So I was setting up the office, getting the space over in the… on Elgin Street, moving into the building there. And it was, again, it couldn’t have been better for a Naval Arch; I was working at how are we going to buy this and how are we going to define it because the Navy had always done the Project Definition and it had always been the prime contractor and the government had decided that that wasn’t going to be the case. And the prime contractor was going to be with industry and our job was going to be to state the requirement and then make sure that we achieved the requirement, but not to build the ships and not to do the systems engineering. I’ll come back to that because that was a very interesting aspect.

When I was in the Frigate program my secretary in fact worked for a fellow over in Treasury Board and they were hiring and I went over to try. So this was four years after I was in the Frigate program and I went over to try and sure enough I won a position over there as an executive within the government and it was in the office of the Comptroller General. And what they wanted was somebody who knew something about planning in a large sense and that’s what my head job in Defence was and that sounded good. And I always believe that a Naval Architect and a Marine Engineer should be able to do absolutely anything that was thrown at us and it turns out that was, that was like bullshit baffles brains so I was really good about this part. I was getting into that scheme of how to do it. So I spent several years there.

And then I went to the Fisheries and Oceans as the Comptroller and Fisheries and Oceans managing all the capital assets so that was the fleet of science ships as well as the fleet of the enforcement ships, as well as the labs and all the space around it.

And from there I went over as the ADM Corporate Management in Correctional Services and in Correctional Services I jumped the pay pause, responsible for designing and building and maintaining prisons as well as feeding and clothing the inmates, when I said this is just what a Naval Architect should be doing because it is just like a ship. If everyone is onboard and you have to look after them and look after them, I did that - perfect.

I went from Correctional Services over to Transport Canada as the ADM Marine and the Commissioner of the Coast Guard. And Jock Allan in fact had been there as the ADM Marine in a previous life and I had talked to him over there when I first started in the business and so now I had both jobs combined so one was looking after ports and harbours and ship’s safety and all that sort of side of life as well as the Coast Guard on the other side. That went on for three years and then I, again, we went through the first Program Review and in Transport Canada we took it seriously and that was when we decided that we were going to privatize CN Rail, the largest IPO they had had up to that time, and then we were going to privatize the air traffic systems, privatize the airports. And so we privatized everything except the Coast Guard because of the services we were providing were the kind of things that we didn’t think should be privatized and not only that we didn’t think the industry was really going to be able to afford to run it and charge the necessary cost. So the next best option, in fact, was to look at joining in with Fisheries and Oceans and they’d been with Fisheries and Oceans way back at… it was1867 when we started up as a country and we had been with them twice more after that. And because they were a primary client it seemed like a good fit. Fisheries and Oceans wanted us over there because they had trouble meeting their targets and I felt that by integrating the Coast Guard fleet and the Fisheries fleet and all those port facilities that we would be able to make up plus a $100 million dollars we were trying to find. And sure enough and we did. So we combined the two departments into one.

And then one day I was having breakfast as I was wont to do with one of my industry contacts and while we were having breakfast he said to me, did you ever think about maybe going down to work for JK Irving? I said no I hadn’t really thought about that. He said would you like to work for him? I said, it sounded like a hell of a good idea. He told me what the rate was going to be and I said yea it sounds like a first class idea. And I said I’ll have to check with my boss. And so I chatted with my wife and we decided that it was a go. I went down there and met with JK. And I finished up in the government on the 16th March and started with him on the 17th March. And so I was there as the president of six of his companies, Saint John Shipbuilding, Halifax Shipyards, the Dartmouth Slips for submarines and East Isle for building parts of the Frigate and for the 700 Class and we also had an engineering and a logistics support. And so what I was there for was primarily to reduce the overheads because we had built ourselves up with the Frigates and we were at a stage where we couldn’t afford the overheads and we couldn’t afford the salaries either for that matter. So the job was to reduce the overheads and to bring the six companies together under one umbrella and integrate all of our back offices and of course new business. So the new business was the MCDVs and we built some tankers and we built some offshore drilling rigs and so on, but that was a part of it.

And then I left there and I came back and started consulting and by that time I had worked in a lot of places and a lot of different departments and in the private sector and so on. And so consulting seemed like a natural. And then the first job I had in consulting was back in Correctional Services and so I started there, and, and over time I would say that I had spent almost from 1999 until today I’ve almost been working steadily with DND as a consultant – I have five different parts of DND anything from technology to the environmental side, the infrastructure side, to the HR side; just about every part of DND – as a client, as a consultant, which was kind of neat because while I was in Fisheries and then the Coast Guard of course we were always working with DND in terms of communications and search and rescue, with which we shared operations. So it’s been altogether since ’59 when I started receiving the government coin until now something like 52 years.


INTERVIEWER: Very impressive.

INTERVIEWER: Yah I didn’t realize that you had quite an extensive career, gosh.

THOMAS: You know I often said they should put me in personnel, in the recruiting. I could have recruited hundreds of people just by telling them what I had done as a cadet and then as a sub lieutenant and then as a lieutenant and then the jobs that I had. And people would sit there wide-eyed and say holly cow because even as a youngster when all you’re doing is getting in trouble I still felt tremendous opportunities you know and to learn things and to do things that when I think most people don’t get a chance to do. I had mentors. My bosses were more like mentors than bosses all the way through, I had excellent people. And you know and the best part they always talked to me about, you know, you have to be one of your staff. I was Naval up to the yin yang. There were at times when I didn’t even get into more trouble because they’d say well you think that’s right John, go ahead and do it you know so long as it’s what we’re supposed to be doing and it’s ethical and it’s in line with what we’re trying to do, go ahead and do it. And right until today, that still works that way. So it’s been first class.

INTERVIEWER: Very lucky yah that’s…

THOMAS: We’ll come back and talk about some of these points in some more detail to bring up, not all points, but to bring up on the Navy side, several things. When I came back and working on the Hydrofoil; my first job as a naval architect, so I had my mind full of stuff, I had spent a year in Devonport going through the bowels of ships and looking at how we were going to weld things together and the very first thing I come across is when we’re looking at the foil and looking at the cracks that we were building spars with hard points in them. I said well you know we’ve got a stress-raiser right there we might have just one but we had you know sort of every 6 inches. I said why didn’t we machine that into…. why didn’t we shape it that way? Well because they built it exactly the same as if they were riveting it and then they welded it. And so we brought a welding engineer up from California because we were using a very high tensile steel. It was 140,000 pounds stress and it required even more sensitivity when it came to the welding. It all had to be preheated at certain temperatures and so on and so forth. And I was aware of all that and we’re doing all of this and we still haven’t done away with the fundamental problem with it as a design, but at that time it was too late we’d had the cracks. And we had these stress corrosion cracks because of course the foil’s up and down like a yoyo except very fast and under a great deal of stress and so we were bound to get these stress raisers. So it was one of the things that I learned that you have to make sure that the people in the industry for the things you’re looking at know about the industry you’re looking at and you can’t always take an aircraft and translate it to a ship’s site and that was the case here, in the end.

At the time the U.S. was also looking at hydrofoils but they were also looking at hovercraft and the Brits were looking at hovercraft because everybody was trying to find a way of dealing with the fast submarines because the submarines were faster than our surface ships. So the idea with the hydrofoil was that we would sprint on foil and then we’d come down on the surface level and we’d tow the array and then we would sprint again and that way we’d keep ahead and find them, and the same idea with the hovercraft that they were going to be above it so they could do it and then tow.

We and the U.S. Navy we tried different approaches to the hydrofoil. The main thing was not the main foil, but the steering foil how you were going to steer it and how much the weight it was going to carry and we had a 90/10 split so that put virtually all the weight on the main foil. As I say that’s where all the stresses were. Some of the things that we didn’t realize besides that was we had turbine shafts down the propellers that were so long but when they torqued up it was virtually a full turn in the shaft because they had the very narrow gate to be able to fit down through the foil and they’re very long so you can imagine this thing where we were torqueing it up like crazy at one end and at the other end you’ve got the water stopping it. And we were just turning right around it. I don’t think they realized how much it was going to turn around; like it was right around. I think another thing that was… they didn’t realize was how seasick people were going to be on this thing, because everybody was thinking well you know we’ll be above the waves. Well what happens is, it wasn’t the waves, it was the period of the …


THOMAS: The swell. It was going so fast. They were like waves and when we were up and down this thing and when we did the rough weather trials I don’t think there was anybody who wasn’t sick ‘cause it was just impossible. So that was another one of the downfalls. Now that’s what an experiment is for and this was an experimental ship to find the different issues that with it. So it was a lot of unproven technology. It was the first time using a gas turbine like that as a drive shaft as I say. It was the steel that we had to use. It was the environment to work in. It was near impossible unless you were cruising.

All those things that when we came to the end there was no further development on it and so the Hydrofoil was mothballed and put in the Bras D’Or Lakes after some time. So it was good, it contributed significantly to our knowledge but as it turns out the Americans didn’t go that way. They went the way of the Hovercraft in the end and part of the reason is that when you’re going at speed and you hit a log as the water damage in a Hydrofoil is not much and you go right over it and the areas that people were looking at was the area in the far east at the time. There were lots of logs in the water. The hovercraft was the answer.

So I moved from there to the forward design group and the forward design group was Nigel Brodeur and what we were looking at was the things that we weren’t doing in the Navy at the time but I felt we needed to do and at the time there was…the big question was if something was on the ocean bed say the size of 45 gallon drum and of course we’re thinking of a big bomb got dropped off there, cause one had been lost on one of the American aircraft at the time. And so we said would we be able to recover it. Well, and even more important, could we find it? And so what we were looking for was a way of finding it, determining for sure what it was and then being able to lift it to the surface. And we felt that what we needed was a submersible in order to be able to get people down there because there’s so many things on the ocean floors especially when coming in to say Halifax Harbour. We needed to be able to get down in there and visualize it and then we needed to be able to get people down there to be able to hook it up and bring it back and so on. So we, in fact, purchased a submersible from a company I think it was Hyco in Vancouver.


THOMAS: It was STL-1. And so we brought that back and then the next stage was getting divers who could actually do lockout diving because that’s what we were going to do and we hadn’t trained anybody for that. So at the same time we’re looking with DCIEM as to what the preliminary design of the systems would be for having chambers where you could lock somebody in to it and decompress them over time. And cause we were looking at bringing one of the chambers and putting them onboard ship. And then the third thing we had to be able to do was to be able to lift the submersible out of the waterway, on to the ship and hook it up to the diving chamber. Well we hadn’t done anything like that and we looked around and the French were doing a little bit about that but the U.S. had really gotten in to it because they needed to provide that capability for their nuclear boats because their rescue was based on going into a submersible from the nuclear boat and coming up.

So we went down to look at the technology and I’m gonna tell you a little anecdote about this because there are a lot of people remember. I was the project manager and I was working closely with a couple of engineers up in DMEE and a couple more from my group and we decided that the best thing we could do was if you went down to the states and took a tour of the different sites where they had this technology. I was a lieutenant commander at the time and I phoned up our friends out at the DND air and asked them if I could line up a row of small jets for a trip and I explained to them what I was doing and the guy came back and said well I don’t think that’s possible but I’ll put it down here. Anyway I got a phone call a few days later and it was from the chief pilot and the chief pilot said I understand you’re looking to make this trip and it was down to Florida on both coasts and then to Texas and then to the west coast and then back so I think we have five stops altogether along the way. And I said yes, and he said I see you’ve got five people and you’re picking up one in Washington and that was the Defence liaison officer and I said yes and he said you’ll have a couple of empty seats and I said yes. He said do you think my wife and my co-pilot’s wife could come along? And I said yes and then he said well I think we can pretty well guarantee you that your flights gonna be on then.

And sure as hell, at the time you had to travel in civvies, interestingly enough. So we all got on board and there were two civilians but the rest of us were all military and we were all in civilian clothes and we were flew down in this jet and we would land and the big black limousines would come out with the American flags flying to pick us up to take us there and they were aghast and we went from coast to coast to coast and it was fantastic and we came back with a tremendous amount of knowledge. It wasn’t just a swan although we did pick up some booze at CDLS in Washington. It wasn’t just a swan; we ended up with so much knowledge we knew exactly what the technology was and I had gathered just a tremendous amount of knowledge in terms of the actual diving chambers and what the problems were. They’d been having all kinds of accidents and one thing and another. So you’re learning from other people’s mistakes and they were just more than willing to share their information. So it was about ten days of cramming it in and then turning back and actually using it and so we bought the mother ship and we bought the A-frame, which was the right way to go and then we got in to the deep diving systems and it was perfect. And so the deep diving systems was my first crack at, of being project manager on the technical side and again I loved it as a lieutenant commander it could not have been more exciting.

INTERVIEWER: What time frame are we talking about?

THOMAS: This would have been in ’73, ’75.




THOMAS: Yup. So the CORMORANT was an Italian ship and that was exactly what we wanted, perfect.

INTERVIEWER: I saw the cheque that was written for the Italians for the purchase of the ASPA QUARTO.

THOMAS: We looked at what it would cost to build one here and we looked around and there was just no question ‘cause for what we wanted was a big beggar, just like a fishing ship has.


THOMAS: Trawler, and so that was that job but then I was posted to Halifax to the … [gratuitous dialogue]…


THOMAS: SRUA, Ship Repair Unit Atlantic. And there I went as the Assistant Naval Architect and the job that I had, we had about six NCOs, all Hull Techs and the job was to actually go down and to define the work for the small jobs that we had to do. And so while I was there we took on the additional task of saying…one of the problems we always had was replacing piping, plastic piping because plastic piping would be put in and then we’d come along and you say well okay what kind of plastic do you use to replace it with? Nobody ever had any really detailed records of this and what we found is that, especially on the AORs, that there was all kinds of plastic that needed to be replaced and so one of the jobs for one of the NCOs was to okay looking at plastic to say okay what kind of plastic do we replace, how? Let’s define it and quantify it and standardize it. Another fellow his job was to look at where we were integrating brass and aluminum - like all of fire hose fixtures and so on ‘cause we always got a tremendous amount of corrosion around; so his job was to look and say how can we handle that in detail.

Third one was looking at the cracks that we were getting on the 205 Class around where the intakes were in the exhaust and how we could deal with those. So that was his job to go in to that and look at it in detail. So everyone of the NCOs had probably doing their day job but when they weren’t working on that they had to come back and make us all better at doing the jobs for everyone else by studying a particular problem that we had and we kept on coming back to it and everybody had to reinvent the wheel again so how do we solve that in the right way.

INTERVIEWER: You’re looking for a root cause weren’t you?

THOMAS: I’m looking for the root cause and a standard approach to answering it so that we could get these things done faster and, and, and professionally. And then I went over to Production Operations Officer.


THOMAS: And Ron Mace was the Commander over there. And he was hesitant about me coming over ‘cause here was this Naval Arch and Ron didn’t realize that I had spent two years aboard ship and I had my C-of-C Part II and I had my watchkeeping tickets, both upper deck and in the engineering room, and everybody does the job different and when I went in I didn’t try to be the engineer onboard the ship. I didn’t see it as being my job. We had engineers on all the ships. We had lots of talent in the Yard for fixing things. I saw my job was how to do things better and by that I mean when we looked at the submarines for instance we were losing about an hour and a half day on the walking time for the people to get from the submarines up to where they had their breaks at coffee at, cause nobody was taking 15 minutes away walking time was before and after, and the same at lunch time and the same at the end of the day. And so we looked at that and examined that and we lost tons of time and it was very disruptive so we in fact we end up getting a shed built down at the…

INTERVIEWER: Synchrolift.

THOMAS: …where the Synchrolift was simply that people would go there and so there was no walking time involved and they liked it a whole much more, it was their own crew that was in it. And then the next thing we looked at was, because it was the submarines we had a lot of [missing word] locks in terms of the machine shop. Everything was fitted and so I worked with the Planning Officer and it was a guy, he was working for you because Don was the Planning Officer at the time. It was the fellow, a civilian, who was working for you who actually did that work. His name escapes me…


THOMAS: … and he was a Controller type and he was controlling every job by the job. At the time the estimate was it was about 72 dollars’ worth of paperwork before we started the work and that was expensive. Even then that was expensive. And that was really expensive that day. And so instead of doing one for each job which was the process that had been, I got him to agree to doing a bulk number of hours. Okay so it was like 40,000 hours and we would do the 40,000 hours and the machine shop the guy from the submarine who was the guy that was doing the refit would take the piece up and they actually write down what it was on a piece of paper like a file what it was and what the item was and then the guy who was doing the work could put the number of hours down and so at the end of each day we kept the number of hours and that’s why I was reporting daily what our use was against the bulk and then that way we controlled it and he was happy and I was happy. But again we saved a ton of money.

And then the third thing was that I got involved with when I was doing the rounds of the ships because it was one of my jobs at the start to see how the work was going and whether we were going to need overtime or not and what I found almost invariably I was always able to find somebody who was drinking on the job or who, whose favorite place was up on the intakes up in the fans. They’d go up in the main intakes, and they flake out there, and I was concerned about this drinking on the job and when I started looking into it my guestimate was that ten percent of the people, the work force, were drinking on the job at lunch time cause everybody loved to have a couple of beers at lunch time, as well as the ones who were heavily into it. And so I worked with the union and we developed a program for dealing with alcoholism and the union agreed that when somebody was identified and they had been drinking that we would treat it as an illness and not punish them but what they were required to do was to come in and take a pill
every morning,

INTERVIEWER: Every morning.

THOMAS: … and the pill made them sick if they drank alcohol and the union agreed to this. After we got it agreed I remember going up to Headquarters to explain this to them and I think the weannies in Headquarters really have no idea what it was like working in Operations cause oh yah that’s good stuff but they didn’t realize the impact that it was having in the workforce to have people who had acknowledged that they’d been drinking, lining up taking a pill and therefore not being a safety hazard to everybody else. So that was the third big thing that I did while I was in engineering.

It was looking at how to manage the workforce as a whole better. And again cause for a young fellow like myself at the time was … couldn’t been better. And then they sent me off to Staff College and at Staff College that’s where I started my shift away. While I was there one of the things we had to do was the U boat or the O-boat rather. And the O-boats had always been taken back to the UK for their refits and it was decided that we were going to do our own refit ‘cause we had a whole pile of Shipalts to do on the O-boats. And again I had a small group and Bill Black I think it was, was one of them and they were…

INTERVIEWER: One of the Blacks.

THOMAS: We were I would say mainly lieutenants and some senior NCOs. We were working on the submarine refit. It might have been eight people we had to use and they spent virtually all their time down there because some of the biggest problems we had were - two big ones. One, we stripped everything out absolutely everything including the main engines and still even with that there was no place to work because there was so much work that had to happen. It was how do you get everybody doing their job, so we ended up doing shifts.

Well the next thing we hadn’t come across was that a lot of the Shipalts into the pressure hull that had to be at right angles to the pressure hull. So we had, remember the O-boats had this nice shape at the front. How - it’s in three dimensions - how do you get a rig set up - a jig - to be able to drill perfectly at right angles to this three dimensional shape? And I remember puzzling over that with them as a way that worked around that because we had a whole bunch of these holes to put in and in putting in these holes we wanted to do it as carefully as we could and that meant to the hull.

INTERVIEWER: Pressure hull

THOMAS: To the pressure hull. So that was the space it was all the Shipalts and holes going in and they came off on time and with what we thought was going to cost and everybody was very happy with the result which of course made me very happy because it was a, it was like a everybody was learning and had their in depth expertise. They hadn’t done it on a boat and they hadn’t gone down there and done it. And that was really …we ended up with a lot of people in the shipyard who were specifically on the submarines then at that time the machine shop and elsewhere. Because there was no space it was hard sometimes to say well this trade goes in and does this and this trade goes in and does, this trade goes…. But on surface ships they would say you have to do it. But it got fellows on boats more leeway ‘cause they realized how tight it was. But the O-boats…

INTERVIEWER: Some of the equipment was in fact done in the UK right during refits?


INTERVIEWER: Periscopes and a few other things?

THOMAS: It was stuff like that. At the time we had a periscope shop but they were just getting in to it. Special glasses for instance they were just getting into being able to do that high precision stuff.

So the next time it comes around was a posting from Staff College back to the Frigate office. At the time there was as I say a ship replacement and then it went to the Frigate office and was setting up the first office. What was interesting about the Frigate program was, from my point of view, it was a tremendous challenge and bringing about change in the Navy. About doing something on the engineering side that was different than the way they had done it. Talk about the near impossible. I would say that if Jock Allan hadn’t been the DG it might not have happened cause Jock was of the mind do it or go elsewhere, but there’s no two ways about it 'cause Cabinet…

I went with Jock Allan one time up from the Hill and we’d done a fair amount of preliminary work on this and when we didn’t have a project manager at the time so our job was taking charge of things and I carried his bag so to speak up on the Hill while he was briefing the Caucus and he had been of course the PM on the 280s. And he had this rugged way of doing things and he had those guys kowtowed. They were listening to him like he was God and there were a couple of times when he said things that I knew were wrong. I didn’t say anything obviously but on the way back I remember saying to him; a couple of things you said that were wrong. He says I don’t want to know about it. He said you might know I was wrong, but nobody else knows I was wrong. He said I want them to know that I was in charge and this was going to work and there was no question about it and so I get from what I thought. He says if it’s not quite right they will never remember that. What they’ll remember is the way I came across. That stuck in my mind because of the many situations since then when knowing the detail wasn’t the issue it’s what’s that thing that you leave in their mind about what you said and mainly it’s gonna be about how confident were you about what you’re doing and that really stuck with me.

Second thing that stuck with me about the Frigate program, this was right at the very beginning. The Cabinet had said that we had to develop capability in industry to do this and industry did not have the capability which meant automatically we had to go to the U.S. and they said no it’s Canadian industry. I said well this is going to be interesting and so I started examining all the risks that I thought were involved in this in terms of, uh, well everything, and so I looked at the cost risk, I looked at the contracting risk, I looked at the design risk, I looked at how we were going to spell it out, like define it; the risk associated with that, a whole series of different things and so my job as the Planning Officer there was to identify the risk and find ways of getting around it at least. Nobody told me what to do and it was one of these things where just like all the other jobs I had I felt enabled to do what I thought was necessary to do it. And so on the cost side for instance I went up to D Cost S and I had worked out a cost model and I worked out what the D Cost S model was and we were going to lose on theirs cause theirs covered everything that DND did. So I did out the different costing model based on what we actually had in the ship and I went up and I talked to them and I explained it to them and they said yes. So they agreed to that model for inflating our dollars going forward and it was more a percent and a half higher than what theirs had been, which was big bucks.

The second thing was on the cost. With the 280s we thought we had got a fantastic deal and we did. It was a way over budget but we looked at what we got for the cost. It was a very good deal. We just didn’t have a good idea about cost estimating. And so I took a different approach. I took a design to cost and so at that time I had done an estimate for the whole program and at the time it was 5.5 million dollars in dollars of that day. And so this would have been in about I think it was in 1978 dollars or something like that.

INTERVIEWER: That was for six ships right?

THOMAS: Seven ships, I think seven. And so I did the cost estimate for that. Wasn’t for 12, it was for that first wave.


THOMAS: And then the cost estimate, I had now protected the dollar and I had what I thought was a reasonable cost estimate but I said the other thing we have to do is the design to cost because if we don’t do design to cost we will lose control over this to PWGSC - DSS at the time. And I said and the last thing I want is for DSS to be making the final decisions. John G was the guy, was an aviation engineer, John…


THOMAS: Say again.


THOMAS: Gruber. He was the Deputy Project Manager and Tom Arnott was the Project Manager.

INTERVIEWER: What was that?

THOMAS: Arnott


THOMAS: Alec Arnott and Alec of course worked on the DSS lot.

INTERVIEWER: He was on the 280 program.

THOMAS: And John had exactly the same mind as I had, DSS will not in a position of making the decisions for us. So we did everything in our mind that we were to put the decision making back in DND. So yes they could do the cost but when we do a design to cost it means the cost was fixed. That’s the most you’re gonna get and that’s so you make sure this is the right, oh come and look at this. And I remember we agreed to that so the next thing though was we knew we didn’t have the capability so we went to a competitive design. But with the competitive design we wanted to own the results so it was gonna be a paid competitive design so we set 15 million dollars which was a reasonable amount. It was, it wasn’t totally it was a reasonable amount at the time to do the design. And the result would be that we could look at the designs coming in. There were two big ones at the time. The designs coming in could stand back and look and say well that’s a really good idea how do we incorporate it? Because we were redefining the requirement if you like so it didn’t really matter since how are we gonna do this. So anyway that’s you know how what we did on the design side to try and protect against that.

The next thing we looked at was I went down to Boeing and I looked at how they did their cost control while making the aircraft. Bear in mind the, the big search aircraft at the time the uh …


THOMAS: LRAP, long range patrol LRP.


THOMAS: Long range patrol aircraft. And so I went down there to see the pro…, DND had the project manager down there on site and I went down and talked with them and looked at how they were doing it. And they were using a cost schedule control system and I looked at it and I said that’s great except not for us because it was way more than I felt the Canadian industry could deal with. So the question is how do we simplify CS2 for us cause it’s all about value added cost and pay on the base of that and I didn’t think that, in fact I knew Canadian industry didn’t have that capacity. I knew that some American industry would have that capacity but how could we simplify it to make it work for us and still get what we wanted out of it. So I was defining CS2 and this is where DSS came back and said no that’s our job. And I said yes that’s okay so long as it’s like this. And they didn’t know anything about it at the time. And I remember the guy was Dave, he had really curly hair and he was from DSS and he made it his life job to become the expert in CS2. Eventually he did. But he agreed with me of how to really keep it simpler. So what we got was what we wanted but not that was going to overwhelm industry and just pay too much money for it. So that was the CS2.

And then that last thing was…, let’s say, the change within DND. And I remember being at a cocktail party with a bunch of people and I remember one of the commanders from DMCS call me an asshole and why was I doing this, and why was I destroying the Navy and so on and so forth. And I was sober, he wasn’t, clearly wasn’t, and so people tried to take him aside. But I really felt at the time here I was carrying the weight of this bloody thing on my back of changing the way. I said shit it isn’t me; I agree with you. I’ve already talked to my boss and I’ve talked to his boss and I’ve talked and that’s where they’re gonna go. Anyway it was, it went that way it was getting people to understand that take the time to define the requirement and the statement of work [SOW] of what you want. Doesn’t mean you have to design it, so requirement and so then we went to a performance requirement and that was really hard to do that; really hard to do that and likewise the way we defined it, the SOW and the DIDs, the Data Item Descriptions. That was taken back from Boeing as well, so how they had done that and transcribing over to ourselves to, but it was simplified somewhat ‘cause we had never defined what we wanted from the contract because we had always been the contractor. So that was a key part of that.

INTERVIEWER: Apart from the gentleman at the cocktail party, who were, I think the other operators were onboard were they not?

THOMAS: Some of them were way more than onboard.

INTERVIEWER: Was Chuck Thomas around at that time?

THOMAS: He was on the operator’s side.



INTERVIEWER: He would have been a captain or a commodore I think at that point.

THOMAS: They just wanted the ships,


THOMAS: … okay ‘cause it was the engineering side of the house that was rather negative, primarily on the DMCS side. And with DMCS recall that’s where all the new technology came from and so we had people in DMCS and I can think of three who at the captain level left to industry and continued doing the work. And so all of the ship systems - ship’s comm and etc., etc. came about that way. But one of the anecdotes about that; there are two I want to mention. One was when we were trying to define, for the first time the ships were heavily computer-oriented and we had talked about graceful degradation of performance as computers got shot up. They would go from this priority to this priority to this priority and the other way around. They would come off the bottom priorities and feed the top ones and it was how to get the graceful degradation of performance cause at the time we didn’t have such things as, you know the internal webs or the notion of a website.


THOMAS: But we didn’t have that.


THOMAS: And so the way we had to describe it was with heavy electrics and we talked about bus bars and having the computers connected into a bus bar.

INTERVIEWER: A ring main for it

THOMAS: We used that bloody language for the thing and I remember thinking back on it where the technology was then and where it was at twenty years later when we finished making them - the use of bus bars to describe SHINPADS.

INTERVIEWER: [chuckle] Yah.

THOMAS: The other one that was really interesting at the time was, I had gone to my commander. At the time I was still a lieutenant commander. I became a commander in the Frigate program but as a lieutenant commander and I really didn’t like the approach and especially when I started working on these things. And I remember going to my commander and saying I don’t think this is right and I don’t share, I don’t think you guys understand the problems we’re going to run into. And I wish I could remember his name - an engineer and his brother was also an engineer who went into Naval architecture.


THOMAS: Baker.



INTERVIEWER: Cec [Note: this should be Derek Baker as he was an engineer and his brother Cecil Baker was a Naval Architect]

THOMAS: Cecil Baker.


THOMAS: And Cec Baker was a guy who always had a consultant working for him, who did the heavy lifting always, and I remember a conversation with Cec Baker about this and I said I don’t think there’s a good understanding of this. He said well that’s the way it’s gonna be, John. And I said no I think it’s wrong. He said well do you want to talk to the boss and the Captain was Bill Broughton, so I went to talk to Bill. Had a good long chat with him and,

INTERVIEWER: A Naval architect.

THOMAS: Naval architect. I explained to him, I explained to my problems and he said I understand John but I said the decision’s been made. I said but I don’t think people really understand these problems and it’s so different from what we’ve been doing. And he said well that’s it. He said would you feel better if you went up and talked to the commodore, the DG, and I said yes. So I went up to talk to Jock Allan and all I remember is the fuzzy red hair,


THOMAS: … and the glasses and I went in and I talked to him and I talked at length with him and I went through all the things, through all the problems and he said that’s really good. I said, he said I’m glad you’re doing that. He said now this is where we’re going and he said and there’s no choice there. He said we’ve been to Cabinet, I understand where you’re coming from, I’ve been there myself and at this point Cabinet has said this is the way we’re going. And he looked at me and said can you get onboard with that or what? And I said yeah I can get onboard with that. He said okay go back and do what you’re doing. And I remember at the time when I would use that example many times and if you really feel in your gut that it’s wrong you gotta take it up until people, until you’re convinced that people do understand.


THOMAS: And ‘cause people always think in the military you can’t do that and that’s not the case at all. It happened time and again and whether it was wrong with Ron Mace or whether it was or whomever, when you explain it and you go through it, and it’s different, you can still change your mind.

INTERVIEWER: Good point.

THOMAS: When I was - another example of that - when I was in Fisheries and Oceans I was the senior ADM and I was integrating Fisheries and Oceans Coast Guard into one organization and integrating the fleet so I was the 2 I/C to the Deputy at the time. And I remember at one of the meetings that we had, the management meetings, an executive committee that science said I think we should keep the science ships white and Enforcement said and we need to keep the Enforcement ships grey. And I said but we have one fleet? We should paint them the same and they said no that’s the way it should be. And of course, they outnumbered me. Ended up them and Bill … my deputy who had come from Fisheries and the word from his guys as ADM then now he was the Deputy there. He said let’s do that, let’s keep the colours that we got now.

And so I went back and about two weeks later I came back or maybe it was about three weeks later I came back to the Deputy and I said I gotta have a serious talk with you. He said what did you do? And I said well what I didn’t do. And I said well let me explain why. And I had a couple of videos. So I put the video on and then out on the west coast Bell had done a video with a Coast Guard ship and the Coast Guard was rescuing, a helicopter was coming down with a rescue. It was a real case and we had rescued people off the sailing boat and the music was fantastic and red and white was there and so on. And then I showed him one of Tim’s, Tim Horton’s. Again on an iceberg, on an icebreaker rather, and it was a Coast Guard ship and it showed them coming down on a Coast Guard ship lowering down and had the family thing having a cup of coffee and it was Tim’s, it was just perfect. And then I showed him the third one was when we were having the fish wars on the east coast. And the Prime Minister, Chretien, he said he wanted the biggest Canadian flag out there and I said well that’ll be the LOUIS SAINT LAURENT so we put the LOUIS out there and it’ll be in all the pictures. And there was a red and white and a big flag in the whole bit. And so I showed him the picture and here was this other ship taking off and he said are you going to get that? That’s one of these Spanish fishing vessels. And I said that’s the problem Bill, that’s one of your Enforcement vessels and it looks just like it, ‘cause they did, it looked just like a fishing ship and I said and that’s the problem there’s no difference. And so I said that’s why they have to be red and white and he stands back and he says why are you telling me this? I said because I haven’t changed the colour yet, they’re gonna be red and white. And he said you feel strongly about this and I said absolutely. It’s crazy. So he said, okay red and white. So that’s when we showed all the fleets red and white. It was another one of these things where you say, if you know it’s wrong,


THOMAS: you got to come back and make your case at least got to come back and make your case.

INTERVIEWER: Stick to your guns.

THOMAS: Yah stick to your guns. That would have been a killer at the time.

So then when I left the Navy I went to work for JK as I said when I started. They had my farewell dinner at - down in the market in one of the nice restaurants down there and then I flew back the next morning and so I flew in ‘cause they had flights sometimes direct to Moncton and or back to back to Saint John it was. And so I flew to Saint John and met him the next morning and started work that day. And the, they were just finishing off the Frigate program so in fact the Frigate program - really the only thing I had to do was closing it up but a big item was on the R & D side ‘cause there were R & D grants against taxes at the time. And we hadn’t claimed it yet and it turned out that I knew the ADM in Revenue Canada, CRA, I guess it was at the time and I had worked with him before and so I talked to him because, whenever we tried to get something done down there, CRA had a whole army of people just fighting Saint John Shipbuilding, just fighting every step of the way.

They audited six ways from Sunday and so in this area here we went down and we got a retired Naval captain from the U.S. who was a specialist in this area to identify these technologies because it was pretty clear it didn’t matter who in the stream had actually developed technology, we could claim it. And so first of all it had to prove that it was new technology. There were lots of areas that it was pretty clear cut but in other areas not, like systems engineering. Is that new technology? Yes, because it hadn’t been done before the way we were doing it. So, I was to put together the package and then it was to get to CRA. It ended up that we won the case and we actually did get a credit so and it was a whole whack of money as you might imagine. And I attributed that in large part due to the fact that I knew the people at the other end and we didn’t get into a pissing contest - we got it and we discussed it. What does the actual Act say? How do we define it? Who would be brought into help us with the third party to define this? Is there anybody that you’re refuting that with that same kind of expertise? And it was step by step by step looking at the principles and then winning the case.

The next thing was the … because when we had the Frigate program the cost had mushroomed because I mean the labour had us over a barrel we were gonna finish on time and so I kept giving more money. So it got to the point where we priced ourselves out of business in terms of being competitive with Poland for instance or Spain so in doing any other kinds of ships ’cause those yards were both subsidized. I couldn’t get a subsidy in Canada. We couldn’t even get loan guarantees from Cabinet which was ridiculous that we couldn’t get loan guarantees. And so we had a big push on to reduce overheads and so we looked at integrating all the back offices because we had six different companies had been purchased at different times, all doing something related to the marine engineering / shipbuilding. But, for instance, the company, the engineering company we’d set up for balancing the shafts and so on. They were now balancing the shafts in the paper mills ‘cause we weren’t doing any ship sets. Our engineering groups were swollen, I was over in Halifax and so we wanted to shrink on one hand and we needed to expand into markets where we knew there was profit to be made and so the question was how’re we gonna work that. So we looked at integrating our logistics support with Davie’s we had discussions. We looked at buying a company. We looked at building our own, expanding one we had already and it ended up that what was agreed was that we would buy one. And so we came up and I was given the task of buying one and came up to Ottawa and looked around at the logistics support groups that had any kind of an engineering capability as well and I looked at three of them and ended up buying Fleetway and we bought Fleetway because it was best for what we wanted for logistics support and also to help us build the design capacity. And then we took one from Halifax and integrated it into Fleetway so it became part of Fleetway. Then we ended up, John H who had been the owner of Fleetway,


THOMAS: Fleck. So we sold to John Fleck, found out that he lived in Manotick out where I live but I do know him from there, ran into him a couple of times. Bought the company from him, found a guy to run it and we ended up putting our manager from Halifax in there to run it eventually. It ended up being our biggest profit centre bar none because there’s just so much to do both there and here and especially when you have first and second maintenance. And so it was, it was a good move and ROI of any measure we should have got our ships a long time ago and got Purina because shipbuilding is not a big maker of money but you have to invest a ton. It’s like you’re making three percent and over here you make twenty percent and then when you see people in software and other kinds of armament, they make like one hundred percent you say what the hell are you doing? So in the integration it was putting all the marketing, engineering, financial systems the HR. We had different HR systems in these places, different financial systems in these places. Bringing it all together as one and then it was to put it all under Irving Shipbuilding. Setting up Irving Shipbuilding as the umbrella and putting it all under one. So in fact that was the last thing I did was, was that, that piece.

Saint John Shipbuilding was a, first it had the state of the art in terms of ship design and shipbuilding under the new Frigate program. But it was way too expensive for doing any other kind of ship program like the overhead was there. You had to have expensive stuff going through not tankers. Tankers are cheap to do. We had expensive stuff to do and even the design group, I mean we had 64 CAD designers up there and after the Frigate program we lost a lot of them. They went down to the States, they went to Marystown and when we went to hire again for doing the tankers and for doing, the offshore drilling rigs, I had to go out and hire and we had to go around the world to find them. It was, I thought it’d be a piece of cake. Not at all! It was to get the numbers that we wanted with the kind of experience we wanted. A tremendous number of them spoke with Scottish accents, as you might expect.

INTERVIEWER: A question here, just to go back to the CPF for a minute, two shipyards, Saint John and Lauzon. How did that work?

THOMAS: Uhm…. Not particularly well.

INTERVIEWER: Because we went through it in the 280s where we had two yards as well.

THOMAS: Not particularly well, too much animosity. There was a very strong feeling that we should have continued to build in there and it was to put salve on, and that animosity continued. It’s still there. That’s because it’s not just competitive, it’s more than that. There’s a…

INTERVIEWER: It’s personal almost.

THOMAS: Well it’s a, it’s, it’s always felt that Quebec had an upper hand and things and they got more government support. Government support within the province of Quebec is much stronger government support we were getting for instance from New Brunswick and it was Big versus Small; that sort of thing.


THOMAS: So we never had the same kind of pull with the Federal government as Quebec did. I think that was it.

INTERVIEWER: ‘Cause it’s showing up again, now.


INTERVIEWER: Especially with the AOR 511.

THOMAS: But it will also show up with the fact that we’ll build you a different one, while you are waiting.

INTERVIEWER: It’s too bad really because we don’t need that kind of problem.

THOMAS: No, but uhm I think…how far does this go?


THOMAS: So part of the job when I was president of Saint John Shipbuilding, I was also President of Halifax and in Halifax there were two major thrusts, one was the AORs that were coming through and for doing their refit. And the fascinating thing there was Pandora’s Box; that’s what comes to my mind. And you go in and the engineer makes up the best thing he can with the information he’s got from what he can see. And then you actually go in and do the work and then it gets worse and worse and worse. And for all the things you might expect I didn’t really expect that the bulkhead between the tiller flats and the last engineering space would be so thin you could put your hand through it. But there was insulation there until you took it down. When you get down to, you know, you have water in the tanks. Well where the water line is,is the rust line, all the way along. Worse than I thought it would have been and there was a notion that ‘cause I’d gone through the same thing with the LOUIS SAINT LAURENT when I was in the Coast Guard and the costs go like this and the government gets really ticked off. With the Coast Guard we hadn’t been given the opportunity to define the requirement ‘cause they wanted to spend money and they said put it in and we said we haven’t defined the work. Put it in anyways. So I didn’t argue with this. Here we define the work, but we were getting at all the things we couldn’t see so it’s a Pandora’s Box and actually it went smoothly between ourselves ‘cause it was the sort of thing where we say if you don’t want us to do the work we won’t cause it’s not in the contract. So but you have to do it. Well then it’s got to be added to the contract; as simple as that.

INTERVIEWER: Work arising.

THOMAS: Work arising, but it wasn’t because of sometimes you know if jobs are work arisings it’s ‘cause it’s fiddley stuff that should have been in there. This was clear stuff that
there’s just no way.


THOMAS: Unforeseen, really unforeseen.

INTERVIEWER: This was, these are MCDVs you’re talking about?

THOMAS: No. This was…


THOMAS: Yah AORs they were going on at the same time. So while that’s going on and building or getting the new dry dock ‘cause we were doing commercial work as well, we also had the MCDVs. So, with the MCDVs I was there for the launching of the first seven and going out in them and talking to the Reservists who were driving them around and one thing and another. And the thing that sticks in my mind about that is the Navy were tickled to death and they would try and convince me ‘cause they knew I’d come over from Saint John, they would try and convince me that the communications were” way” better than what you’ve got on the Frigates. Did you ever hear that?


THOMAS: Time and time again.

INTERVIEWER: Really, yah.

THOMAS: They just thought it was so good. And the long and short of it is that in terms of an operating platform for what we were doing it for, it was fantastic. We had people getting not just technical training, but with leadership training where they would never been able to get there on a ship at a level that they wouldn’t be able to get. And the MCDVs were just a great ship; they really were. So I was involved in the building and launching of the first seven before I left and then going out for the commissioning with all across the country, which was kind of neat. I think, again it was the notion of we were using buildings, we built part of the bow for instance over in East Isle. And then bringing it back and trying to make the best use of all of our facilities, of using our engineering design group there. And we had a good team there. The only incident that happened was I was away in St. Andrews with all my managers so it was the managers of each of the shipyards and from Saint John we had the headquarters group. And we were plotting our course, where we were going and one of the MCDVs broke away and launched herself. Well shit!!


THOMAS: You don’t really expect this to happen and I remember coming back and doing an investigation and so on and so forth. Why did this happen? Will it happen again and so on and so forth?

And then the launching ceremony; I remember mentioning to JK well I got to say something about it. And that was about how the Navy was really just anxious to get to sea. She wasn’t going to wait on anybody and she did. We lassoed her back in the water. That was a really neat program, neat program, and you were in the program there and…

INTERVIEWER: I was, I was in Fenco McLaren.

THOMAS: Yah and the other fellow who was I don’t know if you recognize, he was on the communications side. It was…, he’d been in the Navy with me. I thought he worked for the French company in communications.

INTERVIEWER: Oh there was, there this was Thales so Norm Smythe.

THOMAS: Yes, yes Norm Smythe.


THOMAS: And Norm and I had been friends for a long time. In fact Norm had gone out with my wife before I’d even met her. And I remember Norm was coming down at the time by himself. And then Norm’s wife she ended up, they got a divorce, and she ended up marrying one of my other good friends who also had been in the Navy, Royal Navy, at the same time as me. He was in the high-tech stuff and he went to work for, for Microsoft and his objective was to make his million by the time he was forty and he did. Had a great big sailing ship to sail around the world and took his new wife with him. And the other fellow at exactly same time same time same place was the guy that was head of the Naval Association now.

INTERVIEWER: Carruthers?

THOMAS: Carruthers. He was doing SHINPADS at the time and…

INTERVIEWER: Yes Sandy Sutherland was…

THOMAS: There was a lot of talent there at that time, a lot of talent and not only that, they were talent and they were going down this path and they were defining it and there was no bureaucracy. We never saw each other as competitors, we were all good friends. And even though we were competing for promotions and so on we weren’t really in real life.

INTERVIEWER: Day to day no.

THOMAS: Yah, not at all. It was and I remember when I went over to the Controller General’s office and the first day I was there the Controller General came in. I was frightened to death he came in. That’s like God. And, of course, we stand up when God comes in there. The other two guys that were in there as well were sitting there. I said, I said to them after don’t you guys stand up when the deputy comes in the room? They said no. I said well where the hells the respect. Of course you do. I never thought about that. And that’s what blew my mind away, the difference between going there.

And the second thing was this group were so competitive with each other all the time. But knowledge is power sort of thing and the Navy wasn’t that way at all. It really was night and day. And I must say I didn’t like that part of it at all; didn’t like it.

So the MCDVs were a big success. I think the Frigates were a big success. I think we made our money on both of them. We got money on the R & D out of both of them. Put the six companies under one umbrella to reduce our overheads and which we did, but at the same time, can’t remember the manager’s name that I had initially in Fleetway. He was another really go getter and he managed Fleetway for a while. I don’t know where he is now.

INTERVIEWER: That was Brent Holden?

THOMAS: No before Brent.

INTERVIEWER: Brent, before Brent oh yes.

THOMAS: And I can remember putting it together and we kept on looking at the revenues just going like this and hiring people as fast as we could. And the work was coming in hand over fist. And at one time we were responsible for all the diesels in DND, not just the Navy, all diesels. I said holy shit. And that’s because we get in there and they said one was looking at mocked up and we just kept going. And another thing that was really neat was the place that we had which was, two streets over was the same office that JK had when they started the Frigate program. Same building, same office that we moved into, we thought that was kind of neat. They had a new building in Halifax a big one moved in that and just kept expanding. When it was one of these things where if you get into it you say why didn’t we do this before? Just like SNC-Lavalin did.


THOMAS: Because it’s just good business. So that’s the end of the MCDVs and Saint John Shipbuilding. The other thing that I gave some thought to was the question of post-Broughton in Naval architecture. And I think the lack of Naval Architects has been one of the problems when we have a big capital procurement program. I don’t think we have people that go in and think of themselves as being the project manager of the whole thing. Naval Architects that was part of the job, yes there’s a design and sometimes sitting back and looking at the ship as a whole.

INTERVIEWER: A little more than just ship structure.

THOMAS: Yah and I certainly felt that when I was in DMSE and working for Bill Broughton and then when I was over in the Frigate program it was more than just the ship structure and that was pretty straight forward. It was everything else that makes the ship. And I think that not having people with that perspective and then having them get the opportunity for project management and like they did with the Hydrofoil and then with the diving systems. And I was growing, growing up and learning about it. I remember when I was in - when I was the project manager of the diving system.

We went down to Washington ’cause project management wasn’t really a big deal at that time. It was really just starting and the whole notion that the project team should have somebody on it to represent the user perspective they’d never done before. And so, that was - that was new that was thinking of now the engineers don’t know everything, they gotta have the operators with you all the way along cause it goes like this. And that approach was new ‘cause we had that and then we just what does it mean to manage the project and that was different. I learned a lot from Boeing when I was down. I also learned a lot from the Washington in terms of simplicity.

Norm Smythe and I we used to teach project management to DND. He started and this was out at Arnprior and I went up to Arnprior House and the old Quonset huts. Jesus that’s a hundred years ago. And I remember he was going out initially and he looked - his perspective was combat systems but project management and then I would go out and I would look at from my perspective. That was the ships side. And we probably did that for two years maybe even three years in project management. Yes, and it was all good stuff.

INTERVIEWER: So this is the sort of platform payload thinking to some extent.

THOMAS: Platform payload but it was the systems integration in the largest sense and but then the management of the project you know. How do you define the actual requirement? How do you define the statement of work? What do you do in terms of identifying the risks and mitigating - and physically going up and doing something to mitigate those risks instead of letting things happen as they happen.

INTERVIEWER: And react to them.

THOMAS: And reacting to them and being proactive in all the areas. And I think it was all of that cause when we would go out to the Quart Club and talking to some of the guys who are doing project management now we’re doing things and they say why did you do that? Because there was no fallback position. Like when we stated a requirement they’d come back and the cost was too high. There was no fallback. And I’d say well didn’t you prioritize your requirements? Didn’t you look at what the cost was going to be and it was, and what I found out was project management and not just in DND but in other departments like I did a lot of work over in DRDC on the technology side and they’re replacing all the major government Pension systems but the big systems. And I swear project management is the guy who keeps the papers and goes around and says tell me what you know about this, tell me what you know about this. That’s the project manager and they know diddly squat about the project really. It’s paper pushing and they even had people from finance coming in who had their PMP, but to manage the project and I said but you’re not managing the project you’re keeping tabs on what’s happening.


THOMAS: You’re not managing the project. How can you manage? Take for instance biggest bloody system we’ve got, pensions. The project manager is not where the project is, the project manager is in Cornwall on his own. I said Jesus Christ. Things like that. You can’t manage a project remotely.

INTERVIEWER: They’re spending a fair time I know from kind of synthesizing what project management is in DND for the last few years.

THOMAS: But they went away from the PMP and it’s a major problem and they’re away from the PMP and so when you talk to the people who are in the course they’re not all that keen on it cause it doesn’t give them anything that’s lasting. If they’d got a PMP that would be valid too - anywhere in any department, even as a civilian. But to say that I got a PMP or I got a project management certificate from DND; not necessarily as good. And I know they’ve been spending a lot of time on it.

INTERVIEWER: They’re training people, lots of them.

THOMAS: They’re training a lot of people in it, but I don’t understand why to say they’re training people unless they have an agreement with the PMP and guess we’ll follow this here. And in addition, for me to do something ‘cause we have big projects, we’ll do that in addition.

INTERVIEWER: So it’s a nicer way when someone else is keeping the body of knowledge up to date and current.

THOMAS: Exactly.

INTERVIEWER: In this case it would be the PMI organization.

THOMAS: A good example of that is exactly is that PMI has been – I spent a long time on portfolio management. That hasn’t been one of the successes in DND. How do you manage the portfolios that you move resources as necessary and this would slow them down and this was able to absorb it. And the idea of moving the resource across projects hasn’t been picked up by them. But when you are not managing both and PMP is now at that stage. So, you, after you get your PMP you can go and get portfolio management. And if you do that then that sets you up for all kinds of departments where they’re not capital projects but there are all kinds of other projects. But when you are managing a whole bunch of them and you say well how do we move human resources?


THOMAS: It is a perfect example of that.

INTERVIEWER: Shared Services Canada.

THOMAS: Shared Services. I’m doing some consulting over there with the people still haven’t got it worked out yet. People still don’t know. Some … a lot of people still don’t have job descriptions.

INTERVIEWER: Well in the paper today the article in today’s paper is quite interesting. If you haven’t read it you should.

INTERVIEWER: You had a number of things about costs along the way and I do remember when I arrived in Headquarters and involved in the CPF in the radar section and I got involved in the seventh iteration cost review and it just struck me that seven, so there was another six before that. We must have paid a lot of attention to costs or trying to get the cost right for the CPF. And again, I’m not so sure and maybe it is because we had the people that could actually put something together now then that maybe we can’t do now.

THOMAS: Well the interesting thing is that I have a CMA; someone, a professional accountant is CPA as a designation and I was doing that at the time and I think I was doing my MBA and then I switched to the CMA after that and I think that may be part of the reason I put as much time into the risk and into the cost as I did at the time because the cost always is one of the biggest risks and remember we were getting hit about the head about the 280s and I thought geez that was a really good deal for the money. As far as our government was concerned we blew the budget, terribly. And so it was how do you do the cost in the first place that’s more accurate, and then protect that and then continue to protect it? And I think that’s maybe one of the reasons I spent a lot of time on that in the beginning.

INTERVIEWER: Yes and I know others… further along the way that you mention MCDVs and the fact that it was successful. As I understand part of that could have been the fact that the range of mandatory requirements was sort of negotiated down to be a reasonable size by the time the contract was let. And then there was some more I guess from perhaps as the build continues but at least it sounded as if there was that sort of rational cost cutting to try and make sure that the program would work.

THOMAS: The approach we took was different but it was saying… At the time, it was 5.25 billion or something like that U.S. dollars. The reason for going competitive design was how much can you give us for that? Here’s all the requirements. How much can you give us for that and it’s always the same end point of saying you’re the one that’s gonna build it so tell us what it’s gonna cost. And here’s where you state this. What can you give us?.. trying to get more out of people and I thought that was a good idea to leave it up to the provider to say well I can give you this or this but this I think would be a better benefit for you. Okay and try and do it that way.

INTERVIEWER: Interesting insight into that.

THOMAS: Well I think with the small vessels you should say okay what’s mandatory? Well we have to have command and control…

INTERVIEWER: …communications

THOMAS: …ship systems and all the engineering systems and so on an so forth and anything else you could give us may be really good. But I like the notion of competing the design.

INTERVIEWER: Did Irving ever try to sell this vessel or the CPF?

THOMAS: Tried to sell the CPF and at the time we had a guy from New Brunswick as the minister. He was from New Brunswick. He was in the cable business; made his money there. Doug… Doug. Anyway, he was the minister and he was the kind of guy that didn’t feel that he needed really to be briefed ‘cause he knew it all. So we were over in Saudi trying to sell them and he was there to sell. He didn’t ‘cause he didn’t know and he couldn’t talk to it and it was like a lost cause and it was almost as bad as not having him there at all. In fact, it was because there was no impetus no, there was no push behind all this. Yah I’m the minister I’m…, ‘cause he was, he said I’m the Minister. I mean like you said; you said nothing ugh. You said enough. Pissed me right off…. Doug, Doug.

INTERVIEWER: That’s too bad because it was a good product and is a good product.


INTERVIEWER: And it was a world leader for a while probably.

THOMAS: Because we needed to get government support ‘cause we needed a government loan ‘cause of course France subsidizes theirs up the yin yang and for some reason or other we couldn’t see ourselves to do that. I don’t understand why. I was just… at the time I remember when we went to ITC and they said oh well we have this program in place – ta-dah. And I said yah but it’s only open to the aerospace. Oh, no it’s open to everybody. They said but nobody but aerospace. And they said well Pratt and Whitney. For Pratt and Whitney Aerospace engines, yes. That’s it!

INTERVIEWER: Yes, they…I know that the thing is that later I guess there was a study done and costing of the CPF and how it compared with other ship programs of the time and it seemed that it was, it was very much, it was very competitive with them.

THOMAS: Well I think the end costing was something like 9½ billion or something like that in 1988 dollars over 20 years That’s right that would be a good price because what are we talking about paying for various things now, getting up to close to a billion apiece?


INTERVIEWER: There’s CSC for sure.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned competitive designs and that was the last time it was tried was for the Joint Support Ship and that didn’t work out because the cost… wasn’t enough money for the requirements again and the both competitors weren’t considered to meet the …

THOMAS: The minimum cost.

INTERVIEWER: Yah the minimum cost that’s the word I was trying to think so that didn’t work out so it needs some …

THOMAS: You know that was again when I got ticked off when I saw it because I was talking to some fellows about it. Why did you put yourself in that hole? Why didn’t you just say here’s your design target or however you want to phrase it and what am I gonna get for that? And you can say other things but give me some feeling for what that would cost. This way they had to start over again because this one won’t work and they didn’t have any flexibility coming out of it.

INTERVIEWER: But the requirement as I understand it. Recollections may not be totally accurate but seems to me that DND increased the requirements significantly in order to be able to do our RORO things and a bunch of other things that would not have normally been part of an AOR. It was certainly part of the JSS and so I don’t think too many people were surprised that it had to stop because something had to happen to fix it.

THOMAS: It was a bit mixed up. What’s the requirement? Before you go and do that and you get the requirement at least nailed down or is, as you saying it, this is the minimum and we like this and we, be nice if we had that.

INTERVIEWER: Apart from everything else two ships are not enough if you’re intending to have on at least one coast a continuous availability, right? So really, they probably should have four or two on each coast so that one goes in to refit there’s still one serviceable. But you know we just…

THOMAS: And that’s the same thing as saying our arctic patrol vessels are okay as long as there is not one bit of slush.

INTERVIEWER: [Chuckles] Well, any other questions any other…?

THOMAS: Oh I’m enjoying this.

INTERVIEWER: Well I’d like to thank you very…

THOMAS: In the morning I’ll be hoarse and my wife will say I knew it, I knew it.

INTERVIEWER: No but John it’s important to have it from the CNTHA point of view to be able to share these sort of recollections with visitors [to our website]…

Interview ends


2 I/C - Second in-charge
280s - DDH 280 Class ships
ADM - Assistant Deputy Minister
AOR - Ammunition Oil Replenishment Ship
CAD - Computer Aided Design
CDLS - Canadian Defence Liaison Staff
CNTHA - Canadian Naval Technical History Association
C-of-C - Certificate of Competency
CPF - Canadian Patrol Frigate
CRA - Canada Revenue Agency
CS2 - Cost schedule control system
CSC - Canadian Surface Combatant
DCIEM - Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine and Environmental Medicine
D Cost S - Director of Costing Services - Ships
DID - Data Item Description
DG - Director General
DMCS - Director of Maritime Combat Systems
DMEE - Director of Marine and Electrical Engineering
DMSE - Director of Maritime Systems Engineering
DRDC - Defence Research and Development Canada
DSS - Department of Supply and Services
HR - Human Resources
IPO - Initial public offering
ITC - Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce
JSS - Joint Support Ship
MCDV - Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels
NCO - Non-Commissioned Officers
NDHQ - National Defence Headquarters
PM - Project Manager
PMI - Project Management Institute
PMP - Project Management Professional certification
PWGSC - Public Works and Government Services
R&D - Research and Development
RCN - Royal Canadian Navy
ROI - Return on investment
RORO - Roll-on/roll- off
SHINPADS - Shipboard Integrated Processing and Display System
Shipalts - Ship alterations
SOW - Statement of Work
SRUA - Ship Repair Unit Atlantic