OTTAWA—The Harper government is taking a stab at fixing the country’s broken military procurement system, opting for steady, incremental changes rather than a wholesale revolution.
It’s also putting a greater public emphasis on defence and arms exports with the development of a strategy “to support international sales opportunities.”
The plan introduced today by Public Works Minister Diane Finley and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, is meant to be the answer to years of botched purchase plans and the associated political embarrassment.
The new system will see increased co-operation among Defence, Public Works and Industry officials under an umbrella secretariat headquartered at Public Works.
The lightning rod F-35 program and the national shipbuilding strategy were both handled under their own individual secretariats.
The plan rejects creating an independent military procurement board, as other countries have done, and instead builds on existing structures and practices.
Cornerstones will include consultation with defence industry contractors before projects go out the door and independent third-party challenges of the military’s equipment requirements.
The government will also become more involved in steering Canadian defence contractors towards individual procurements.
Last year, former public works minister Rona Ambrose commissioned an outside report that recommended the federal government actively leverage planned defence spending as much as it can.
As much as $240 billion is expected to be laid out over the next 20 years for trucks, helicopters, ships and fighter jets, and the report said Ottawa has the opportunity to demand benefits for key industries and to encourage innovation.
A series of delays and failed plans to re-equip the Canadian military have been a constant source of embarrassment for the Conservatives, who make supporting the troops part of their mantra.
The auditor general’s bruising 2012 assessment of the plan to buy 65 F-35 stealth fighters left the government’s reputation as good fiscal managers in tatters, with allegations that both defence and public works low-balled the enormous price tag and didn’t do their homework.
The inability to deliver long-promised supply ships for the navy, and fixed-wing search planes and maritime helicopters for the air force have also contributed to the perception that the system is not only broken, but in disarray.
A $2-billion plan to buy armoured fighting vehicles for the army was scrapped just before Christmas, and the system has even failed to deliver something as straightforward as 1,500 logistics trucks.
Affordability, especially in the face of declining defence spending, has been a key driver in many of the botched programs. The Conservatives have been repeatedly surprised by the price tags of some of their pet projects when it comes time to open the bids.
That’s why officials see preliminary consultation as a key step in untangling the system.