I mentioned, a couple of days ago, that the Canadian defence procurement system is “broken.” Apparently the Liberal government in Ottawa can see that, too. So, will it try to take some measures to fix it?
No, say Daniel Leblanc and Steven Chase in an article in the Globe and Mail, instead, they report “Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, under pressure to deliver a new purchasing plan for big-ticket military goods, is preparing to lower expectations for the amount of cash available by blaming the former Conservative government for leaving the Canadian Armed Forces with a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall … [and] … Mr. Sajjan will deliver a speech in Ottawa on Wednesday that will lay out the lack of available funds for essential procurement projects into the next decade, arguing that this is creating unexpected challenges for the long-term plan for the CAF, federal officials said”
The article says that “defence officials said the minister will clearly lay out to Canadians that he is facing budget constraints that go well beyond the expectations of most military experts … [and] … “We need to get more hard facts into the public domain about the real state of affairs and where we’re starting from. It has made the challenge deeper than it was widely understood to be going in,” said a senior defence official, speaking ahead of the speech on condition of anonymity … [further] … In particular, defence officials said there are 18 major projects, which are all essential to the continuing operations of the Armed Forces, that are currently unfunded. As such, any future budget increases awarded to the Department of National Defence would have to go to these projects rather than to new purchases that will be called for in the defence policy review … [and] … The unfunded projects include a replacement fleet for Canada’s decades-old Aurora aircraft, new communications satellites for the Arctic, new military-grade bulldozers and new refuelling trucks. All together, these projects are worth well more than $10-billion, with additional needs to train CAF members.“
Actually, I think “most military experts” and even many laymen, are well aware of the cope of the shortfall in defence spending. As the article says, “Vice-Admiral Mark Norman publicly warned Canadians of this funding shortfall shortly after the Liberals won election under Justin Trudeau. The veteran officer, now suspended pending the outcome of an RCMP probe into the leak of confidential information, went public in late 2015 with a frank discussion of the lack of sufficient money allocated to building Canada’s future fleet of military ships … [and] … He said in December, 2015, when he was head of the Royal Canadian Navy, that the military would need twice as much money set aside for warships, saying the initial cost estimates of $14-billion had doubled and would cost as much as $30-billion.” The CPC did, indeed, “low ball” some costs and delay projects so that they could restore a balanced budget in 2015 … some might argue that defence spending should have been exempted the constraints that were imposed on almost all government projects but I think the politics of doing that would have been very, very difficult. Sp it isn’t as though this is some sort of surprise to anyone … if any “senior defence officials” are, in fact, surprised then it is only because they were not listening to what one of their own most senior colleagues was saying … or, perhaps, they were hoping that the Liberals would, somehow, change their spots after 50 years of being overtly anti-military.
“The Liberal Party,” Messers Leblanc and Chase write, “has historically found itself divided over military spending, which tends to restrain its enthusiasm for funnelling cash into the Department of National Defence … [but] … the Conservative Party, which is avidly pro-military, nevertheless delivered far less than it promised for the Forces during nearly a decade in office. The government of Stephen Harper had a few early successes in its mandate – such as heavy-lift aircraft – but then quickly became bogged down in efforts to deliver planes and ships … [and] … Military procurement has proven difficult for successive governments over the decades. For example, it was only in 2015 that Ottawa finally took delivery of the first six of 28 naval helicopters originally ordered more than a decade ago. Former Harper defence minister Peter MacKay called that helicopter purchase the “worst procurement in the history of Canada.”
Even Gordon O’Connor, Prime Minister Harper’s first defence minister, who oversaw those “few early successes,” seemed to have had to fight many uphill battles in cabinet and then within the government, including within his own department where politicians and bureaucrats are wedded to a doctrine of “process über alles,” meaning that sets of increasingly complex procurement regulations, designed, originally, to ensure open, fair and competitive bidding, must be followed even when they are contradictory and self defeating. There are too many departments with to many competing mandates in the defence procurement business and, almost inevitably, DND ends up spending to much ~ too much of your money and mine ~ to get too little, often too late. And O’Connor was an exception to a more general political rule: he was a minister without too many ambitions, he was willing to throw himself under the bus to get what he felt the military needed ~ new Leopard II main battle tanks and C-17 Globemaster and C-130sJ Super Hercules transport aircraft. I doubt that Minister Sajjan is quite so focused on what the Canadian Forces need.
So, rather than fight for what is needed, Harjit Sajjan will tell Canadians that the military will, yet again, have to “do more with less.” Well, maybe not more … maybe we can just forget about a useless peacekeeping mission in Africa, maybe the Americans will not notice when we fail to spend more on defence, maybe NATO will wait longer for our part* of a battle group.
The procurement system is broken: the Government of Canada needs to fix it, not lower expectations.
* A battle group in military parlance is a combined arms force based around either an armoured regiment (60 to 80 tanks) or an infantry battalion (900± soldiers in e.g. 100+ LAVIIIs) and it usually totals 1,250 to 1,500 soldiers with tanks, artillery, engineers, attack helicopters and so on … Canada has pledged 450 soldiers to a Canadian led “battle group” in Latvia.