VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government has formed a Cabinet committee to shepherd high-profile defense purchases, including those of fighter aircraft, through the country’s notoriously problem-plagued procurement system.
The committee will oversee billions of dollars in new purchases and ensure they do not get stalled in a federal bureaucracy that has seen other defense acquisitions derailed or delayed for years.
The committee, which has the political clout to liaison directly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will keep tabs on the Canadian Surface Combatant project, which will see the building of new warships to replace Canada’s destroyers and frigates; the fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft program; the logistics vehicle modernization program, which will provide trucks for the Canadian Army; the replacement for the CF-18 fighter jets; and the acquisition of an Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel.
The Liberal government has promised to overhaul Canada’s procurement system and cut through the red tape that has created delays of up to a decade on some large acquisitions.
“Procurement has become paralyzed,” Trudeau complained in September, a month before he won the federal election and became prime minister.
During the campaign, Trudeau noted his government would ensure all equipment acquisitions operate with “vastly improved timelines and vigorous parliamentary oversight," while “providing the necessary, decisive, involved, and accountable Cabinet leadership to drive major programs to a timely and successful conclusion.”
The committee is made up of Procurement Minister Judy Foote, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Scott Brison, the president of the Treasury Board.
The Liberal government declined to discuss details about the committee.
But Alan Williams, the Department of National Defence’s former procurement chief, said the list represents some of the key equipment purchases over the next five to 10 years. Williams said that while government efforts to try and fix procurement system problems is welcome, he questioned whether the committee would make matters worse.
“You have four ministers each bringing their own views to the table and each representing federal departments with their own agendas,” said Williams. “They’re going to want studies. They’re going to want reviews. I can see this actually slowing down the process.
Williams said if the government wants to ensure a smoother procurement system, it should place one minister in charge of military acquisitions.
“Put one minister in charge, hold him or her accountable, get people in place who understand the process and get it right for all projects, not just four or five,” he explained.
Of the projects to be monitored by the committee, only the acquisition of fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft has made any progress. Bids for that CAN $3.1 billion (US $2.3 billion) acquisition were submitted Jan. 11.
“It is estimated that the evaluation period for the selection of the successful bidder, which includes aircraft testing, may take up to six months,” said Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada.
The government provided no details on when the winning company would be announced, but aerospace firms are expecting that to happen in late 2016 or early 2017.
Canada’s previous Conservative Party government tried to overhaul the procurement system in February 2014 but little was accomplished. The Conservative government had to deal with a series of high-profile failed or controversial military procurements over the last several years, sparking criticism in both the House of Commons and news media.
The $2 billion project to purchase new close combat armored vehicles for the Army was canceled. Canada’s purchase of F-35 fighter aircraft was thrown into turmoil several years ago after a report by the government’s auditor found Defence Department officials withheld key information from Parliament about the jet, under-estimated costs and didn’t follow proper procurement rules.
In 2008 the procurement of a fleet of supply ships for the Royal Canadian Navy was scuttled. It has been restarted but the ships aren’t expected until 2021.
New Arctic offshore patrol ships, which were to be in the water in 2012, have yet to be built. The first is expected to be ready in 2018.