Editor’s Corner article

From the Editor
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Jan 16, 2017

Can transparency, efficiency and fairness co-exist in defence procurement? We have to believe it can, but go the next step, and that concept must be made into a reality. We are politically ready to battle instability in other parts of the world in order to safeguard ourselves and our values. Canada now has policies in place that clearly define the importance of “defence” to Canadians, and our military leaders are determined to deliver their end of the equation. But there are a number of stumbling blocks. Not having enough of the right equipment to do the job properly is one of them. The system (for want of a more accurate term) of Defence Procurement is another. 

This topic has long been the subject of heated backroom discussion covering every angle. The defence industry has suffered greatly over the years; many good and innovative people and companies have battled the system. Some have persevered but others have stepped back in frustration.

Acknowledged by just about everyone now, is the candid assessment that the situation is now beyond workable. In fact, “cooked” is the most common word that surfaces during conversations among observers and industry sources. Are there any solutions? Get your highlighter ready, this edition of FrontLine features a wide selection of ­current thought on the topic. 

Some people advocate sole-sourcing as the best way to get timely completion of a requirement. Some argue that the appointment of a “fairness monitor” is a negative move, yet others are convinced that a separate Defence Procure­ment Agency with its own Minister is the way of the future. I’ve also heard many suggest that Australia’s system should be examined.

The press has picked up on some of the problems and commented on the strong influence from defence lobbyists. Critics claim that lobbyists are too powerful in the defence field and are teaching the current teams how to work the system to ensure their team “wins.”

This is a very cynical view, however, Canadians have every right to be cynical of government right about now. And therefore, taxpayers must insist on transparency. We must never again allow our government to make decisions without true oversight. That being said, we cannot allow oversight to cripple the system with so many levels of approval that decisions are near impossible.

Yes, the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence have a very critical mandate. And many argue that there should be different rules for defence procurement, and that’s probably true to some extent. The defence of our country and our values should be paramount. But are we compromising our own value system with the procurement process? 

As much as we understand the truly life-and-death requirement to get the equipment needed in place now, choices must stand on merit. Requirements must be quantifiable, specs must be provable, and choices must be defendable. And why must we wait until things break down? A scheduled system of regeneration seems beneficial to all. 

The alleged culture of choosing one product (or choosing against another) before finalizing the requirements, must change. It is not a secret, it never was. It is hurting industry, killing competition, stifling innovation, making too many middlemen rich, damaging the credibility of the entire system and, speaking of Canadian values, it is creating distrust of leadership. And that is not only counter-productive to a healthy society, but it contributes to instability in our own land – how’s that for irony?

For two decades the government of Canada has relentlessly stripped the Canadian Forces down to bare and broken bones. Our new CDS, General Hillier, has been tirelessly working toward rectifying that situation in order to ensure the men and women under his command have basic equipment needs met. It would be understandable if he’s getting more than a little frustrated with the stifling situation that exists now. And one wonders if the distractions caused by the January election will result in lost ground on that battlefield.

The challenge before us lies in creating a system that gets the job done effectively and efficiently without compromising either the integrity of accountability, the fairness of transparency, or the effectiveness of getting the right kit in time to enable our young Canadian men and women to complete the job demanded by their country.