What is wrong with Canada’s military procurement process?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

You can add this to the growing list of Canada's military procurement woes.

As reported by the Canadian Press, on Friday, the Harper government has decided to scrap a $2-billion order for new close-combat armoured vehicles citing budget considerations.

Army officials suggest that the decision won't affect the safety of Canadian soldiers — that upgrades to our existing light-armoured vehicles will provide adequate protection.

Liberal MP Joyce Murray isn't convinced.

"The government’s mismanagement and incompetence of the Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) procurement process means that Canadian soldiers are being denied the protective equipment the Generals say they need," Murray said in a statement noting that Canada’s experience in Afghanistan revealed the need for these close combat vehicles.

She also slammed the government for already spending tens of millions of dollars on this project.

"Tens of millions of dollars wasted, which could have been used to support injured soldiers and their families, veterans pensions, or any number of worthy investments," she said.

"Canadians, industry experts, and the members and families of the Canadian Armed Forces have to be wondering: how can you possibly trust the Conservative government on National Defence given this growing parade of procurement failures."

[ Related: Cost-cutting military kills $2-billion armoured vehicle order ]

There has been a lot of negative press about Canada's procurement problems over the past several years.

Successive governments have had trouble procuring military trucks, problems with second-hand submarines bought from the UK in 1998, delays on the purchase of search and rescue planes and have faced ongoing questions about the cost of our shipbuilding program.

And let's not forget about the F-35 fiasco and the government's "re-set" of that procurement process last year.

[ Related: Slightly more benefits would flow from F-35 deal, if Canada sign on, says report ]

To be fair to the Harper government, this isn't just a Conservative Party problem.

As explained in a recent report by the Conference of Defence Associations, defence procurement has been fumbled for over the past two decades in this country and in other countries like Britain and Australia.

The report, written by defence analyst Richard Shimooka, suggests that one of the solutions to the problem could be more international cooperation — like we saw with the F-35 program.

Since the Canada First Defence Strategy first articulated the Government of Canada’s intention to reequip the Canadian Forces in 2008, a wide variety of procurement models have been tried.

From domestic innovations, to purchasing off-the-shelf, to undertaking international partnerships, there are examples of all of these in Canada’s recent procurements.

Despite the political and logistical challenges associated with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, international partnerships as a model for procurement present the most effective way to meet three overarching procurement goals: Meeting operational requirements; Getting good value for taxpayer dollars; and Strengthening domestic industry.

International partnerships, when conducted effectively, an effective means to avoid three basic problems that are common to all procurements: Cost overruns; Delays; and Suboptimal performance.

Others pundits, like James Cowan of the Canadian Business Magazine, suggest that the government practice of tying Canadian jobs to military machinery projects has been a huge mistake.

"Many of the project delays associated with the shipbuilding strategy are rooted in the fact that no Canadian company has built a large military vessel in two decades," Cowan wrote in a recent column.

"Meanwhile, internal documents obtained by the Canadian Press suggest the ships would have been completed faster and at 10 per cent lower cost if they were built overseas."

Another theory being bandied about is that no one person is responsible.

Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister at the Department of National Defence wrote an op-ed about that for iPolitics.

As I have argued for a long time, the single most significant impediment to improving the defence procurement process is the lack of a minister directly accountable for results. The overlap and duplications between the roles and responsibilities of the ministers of PWGSC and Defence guarantees that no single minister can be held accountable for the billions of dollars spent annually.

For their part, the Tories have made some changes in the way they purchase military equipment Recently, Public Works Minister Diane Finley announced that they will require that all future military procurements be reviewed by third-party advisers.

Williams, however, doesn't think that will make any difference.

"These kinds of checks and balances are built into the system already," he wrote, suggesting it's like having too many cooks in the kitchen.

"Adding some unaccountable external advisors adds no value. If the existing officials are not doing the job, replace them. Don’t add more bureaucracy."

While it might be hard to pinpoint what the exact problem is, there's definitely a problem with military procurement in this country.

A problem that continues to cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars every year.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!