Canada’s Defence Procurement System Needs an Urgent Culture Change

By Dan Middlemiss, 24 June 2022

A timely and trenchantly argued study by Ian Mack advocates a fundamental and urgent overhaul of Canada’s military procurement system.1

Mr. Mack outlines some of the reasons that this is necessary – low political priority, Canada’s felicitous geographical location alongside the United States, the reduction in skilled procurement professionals, the interference of government lawyers in protecting contractors from liability claims, and the steady growth in risk-averse processes in the bureaucracy. All of this has produced “a culture for many procurement and National Defence officials which generally acts to survive by going along to get along with the status quo.” (p.3).

This assessment is dead on target. For far too long, Canadian politicians, defence planners and procurement bureaucrats have gravitated toward peacetime practices (e.g., ‘Business Plans’ just-in-time delivery, etc) for organizations like DND and the CAF whose fundamental raison d’etre is the preparation for crises, conflict and even war in an always uncertain future. The ethos of such organizations must be adequate preparations now, and not in some distant future date dictated by the whims of our coddled defence manufacturers. As Mack notes, “The need for change has been obvious for decades. In the past we have seen that our acquisition system can be flexible in a crisis. It is time to move to that footing as the default approach.” (p.3).

I could not agree more whole-heartedly. After all, the basic task of any state is to protect its citizens from external threats and attacks. We live, as Mack notes, in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. And only our federal government can take on this paramount role – all of the objectives of government should be subordinate to this goal, and only our national government has the mandate, responsibility and tools for doing this job. This message has been long ignored and pushed aside in our comfortable political and economic environments. But this wilful disregard must change.

Mr. Mack goes on to lay out some well-considered measures to effect this badly needed culture change. These range from empowering the Treasury Board Secretariat to recommend alternate policies to meet urgent military requirements, resorting more frequently to military-off-the-shelf products, ramping up oversight panels to speed up the process, embracing more sole-source contracts when necessary, adopting a more Industrial and Technology Benefits-lite approach, and so on.

Readers in this Forum will be interested in Mack’s recommendation to consider offshore ship design and construction to speed up the delivery of government vessels under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) when our shipyards lack capacity or cannot improve on delivery schedules for contracted vessels. This might mean abandoning Ottawa’s insistence on a strict “build-in-Canada” policy in cases where speed is critical. (p.4)

Ian Mack’s study is a vital call for change. The current procurement system is untenable; Ottawa needs to heed this well-argued call for culture change.

Notes

1. Ian Mack, “Military Procurement Innovation Now,” Canadian Global Affairs Institute, June 2022. Accessed at: https://www.cgai.ca/military_procurement_innovation_now

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