An interesting post at the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies looks at the real reasons the Royal Canadian Navy has had such a rough time with the current class of submarines:
Submarines are perhaps the most misunderstood weapon system in the Canadian Forces. Few Canadians, even those well-versed in military matters, understand their role in Canada’s defence. Worse, the technical issues that have afflicted the Victoria class submarines have dominated the media narrative for a decade, convincing many that they really are a set of lemons put upon us by the crafty British. In actuality, the navy had relatively few options to replace its aging Oberons in the 1990s. It was the decisions made then, rather than any inherent technical shortcomings, which created many of the problems experienced after these vessels entered active service. Yet, the choices for the navy were stark. Faced with a government that was essentially hostile to the idea of submarines, and limited in what it could spend, the used, but highly modern Upholders were the only option open to the RCN: it was either that or the end of the Submarine Service.
[. . .]
However, submarines were politically unpopular within the Chretien government. The former foreign minister called them “un-Canadian” in nature, and Chretien himself dithered on the decision. Sensing that the window was about to slam shut, the navy lobbied hard for their acquisition in what was called the deal of a century – four slightly used subs for $750 million. The old supply vessel HMCS Provider would be paid off early and planned refits for the O-boats foregone.
But the navy had to live within the tight limits that had been established by that $750 million figure. As such, much of the spare parts the RN had warehoused for the submarines were not purchased, nor was some of the technical information concerning the engineering of the submarine’ systems acquired from VSEL (later BAE Systems). In addition, a series of technical problems were discovered in the submarines as they began to be reactivated by the Royal Navy. Many of these were fixed before the boats were delivered to Canada, but several expensive fixes remained after they were acquired. The heavy demands made on the navy at the beginning of the War on Terror in 2003, just as the submarines were arriving in Halifax, also limited the ability to move quickly in resolving these issues.
In many ways, the problems experienced by the subs represent an “own goal” on the part of the navy. The decisions that were made at the time in order to get the boat were to come back to haunt the navy years later. The failure to acquire sufficient spares or establish supplier relationships resulted in many of the significant delays in making the subs operational as the navy worked to create its own network of industrial relationships to manufacture the specialized equipment found on no other naval system. It is this fallout from the procurement process, rather than the frequent argument that the subs were poorly constructed, that is responsible for the delays and technical setbacks in the programme. Given the constraints under which the navy had to operate in the mid-1990s there really were no other alternatives if the service was to be preserved. Despite the problems that came with the boats, it really was the deal of the century!