A few weeks ago I commented on a report about there being an intellectual property fly in the Canadian warship building programme’s ointment. I suggested that Canadians need to know that their government has a firm grip on this project, but now, Murray Brewster, the author if the original report, says, writing in CNC News, that the problem is worse and is escalating. “The problem,” he explains, “is many of Canada’s allies, including the U.S., Britain, France and Australia, paid for the development of those essential electronics individually and don’t want to share the data for their own national security reasons … [and] … Defence analyst Dave Perry said he’s heard informally that as many as three governments, including the United States, are balking at handing over the data.“
When the national shipbuilding procurement strategy was conceived, during the Stephen Harper administration, one of the aims, I suspect, was to reduce the political risk for government by keeping ministers, especially, and senior officials “at arms length” from pesky details that might make it appear as though the government was playing favourites. Therefor, “The Canadian government made it the responsibility of ship designers to acquire the sensitive data for inclusion in their proposals, and a defence industry source with knowledge of the file says the provision should be no surprise.” But they were being, I think, too cute by half because making Irving Shipbuilding responsible for the bid evaluation also made Irving privy to many, many commercial confidences that other shipbuilders, who must compete with Irving in other markets, do not wish to share. Those other companies are, normally, willing to share sensitive information with a government agency because they trust the government-to-government rules that are in place to protect commercial information but they are not sure about sharing with a private contractor.
“Documents obtained by CBC News,” Mr Brewster says, “show one of the 12 companies competing to design and help construct the warships has been blocked from handing over “supporting data and services” … [and] … “the documents show, at least one bidder believes negotiating state secret data is best done government-to-government … [because] … “Whilst the Bidder respects Canada’s absolute right to define the terms of any solicitation process, bidder respectfully suggests that Canada, rather than Canadian industry retains responsibility to conduct diplomacy and that it is up to Canada to negotiate terms with foreign governments,” the documents said.“
It is a bit late to completely rejig the process, but it may not be too late to insert a new “step” in which officials in the Public Services and Procurement Department receive, vet and analyze the sensitive data and pass results, not the data proper, to Irving. Minsiter Foote and Sajjan need to reassure Canadians and potential contractors that we, Canada, can be trusted to deal fairly and responsibly with bidders’ commercial-in-confidence data.