Mismanagement, staff cuts and rank political opportunism have caused widespread delays in military procurement, according to a revealing new study. And this scandalous inefficiency is denying those serving on Canada’s front lines the equipment they need.
The previous Conservative government deserves a good part of the blame, as it attempted to cling to power last year. The chronically slow system for acquiring new military gear was crippled as the Tories sat on key decisions so they could be announced in the run-up to October’s election.
Fewer civil servants are struggling to manage soaring spending on a variety of complex projects. They lack the expertise that was available in the past. And well-intentioned oversight procedures have produced tangles of red tape.
The all-too-frequent result is that urgently needed equipment – including aircraft, ships and vehicles – aren’t getting to military personnel in good time or in the expected numbers.
The new Liberal government has much on its agenda, from settling an influx of Syrian refugees to revitalizing the moribund economy. These are important, no doubt, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should not lose sight of his party’s promise to end Conservative mismanagement of military procurement. Billions of dollars are at stake, along with the well-being of thousands of armed forces personnel. They have been poorly served over the past few years.
An in-depth sampling of the Conservative government’s military buying has found that two-thirds of projects are running behind schedule. A 73-page study released this week by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute shows that 63 per cent of 59 projects have missed their timelines. Only about a third are on schedule, while 3 per cent appear to be arriving more quickly than anticipated. That’s not good enough, not by a long shot.
Delayed projects include new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, which were originally scheduled for delivery in mid-2005 and are now expected in only 2019. Arctic patrol ships were initially set for arrival in 2013 but are now booked for 2018. And military trucks, which were to be on the road in 2009, are expected next year. None of these is a frill.
Major military procurement has always been a fraught process, prone to delays and cost over-runs, not just here but around the world. But Canada’s decades-long record of botched purchasing is remarkable by any standard, from the disgraceful saga of its decrepit Sea King helicopter fleet to the ill-conceived purchase of four discount submarines from Britain. Sadly, a new low was reached last year when the procurement process appears to have been deliberately slowed for partisan political gain.
“Federal elections may be good for democracy, but the campaigns — particularly the lengthy one recently held in Canada — can be crippling for plans to better arm our military,” wrote Dave Perry, author of the Global Affairs Institute report. A significant number of expected announcements seem to have been held back until “immediately prior to the start of the election.” That’s a reprehensible reason to stall work on a badly needed project.
Other problems include a revolving door in armed forces leadership, with the previous government replacing its defence minister, deputy minister, various assistant deputy ministers, and the Chief of Defence Staff — all since September 2014.
That slowed matters, as did a deepening staff shortage in the area of procurement. Decline has been dramatic since 1989, when Canada’s material acquisition group numbered about 3,000 people for each billion dollars’ worth of military purchasing. It employed just 1,800 staff per billion by 2009, and “since then the ratio has gotten substantially worse,” wrote Perry.
It won’t be easy to turn this around but Trudeau could start by hiring more people to handle increasingly complicated military procurement files and giving a determined push to efforts aimed at streamlining internal approvals. The men and women who stand on guard for this country shouldn’t have to wait years longer than necessary for equipment they need to do their job.