Money no guarantee of defence spending

No. 1 priority: fix the broken procurement system

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan complained earlier this week about how years of underfunding has impacted the Canadian Armed Forces, but not even when money has been set aside for the military does it flow easily, internal figures show.

The Department of National Defence numbers underscore what some experts say should be the No. 1 priority for the federal Liberal government when it comes to the military: fix the broken procurement system.

Government sources say the government’s forthcoming new defence policy will start to address the problem, which has resulted in endless delays for the purchase of desperately needed equipment.

But it’s not the first time such a promise has been made, and analysts fear the Liberals will follow previous governments in failing to break what has become a vicious cycle within the procurement system.

The biggest problem, they say, is the government always tries to use a limited amount of money to meet three objectives at the same time: buy military equipment; encourage competition; and create jobs.

“Any one of these objectives would be difficult to achieve on their own,” said Sahir Khan, executive vice-president of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy.

“But the reality is that the fiscal envelope was never large enough to simultaneously accommodate all of the objectives.”

National Defence’s numbers provide a year-by-year breakdown of the government’s decision over the past two years to delay more than $12 billion in planned military equipment purchases during the next two decades.

The figures, obtained by The Canadian Press, are particularly stark in the short-term.

This year alone, National Defence plans to shell out less than half the $2.7 billion on major new equipment it had originally expected to spend.

Some of the $12 billion that has been “reprofiled,” as the government calls the delayed spending, will start to flow again in 2021-22, but the bulk isn’t expected to materialize until after 2036.

Government and military officials say the decision to reprofile the money is separate from the underfunding issue that Sajjan highlighted in a major speech on Wednesday.

The government has given National Defence a set amount of money or fiscal space for major military procurement projects over the next few decades.

That number doesn’t change just because a project is delayed, the officials said, meaning the money can’t be spent on other things because it will still be needed when the project is ready to go.

The problem Sajjan was addressing, the officials said, is that National Defence doesn’t have enough money over the long term to buy everything it needs, including 18 projects deemed critical to the military’s future.

Those include upgrades and life extensions to two military helicopter fleets, air defences for infantry units, and engineering and logistical vehicles for the army, all of which are currently unfunded.

But analysts say the reprofiling and delays point to the fact that even if the Liberals promise more money for defence, the procurement system needs to be fixed.

Sajjan stressed in his speech that the new defence policy would be fully costed, and the very fact the government has drawn up Canada’s first real defence policy in decades has been welcomed.

But National Defence continues to struggle with a significant shortage of procurement staff, while the entire system remains focused on not only buying new equipment but creating jobs and competition.

Several analysts noted that the last time the military procurement system really worked was a decade ago, when the government rushed to buy tanks, helicopters and transport aircraft for Afghanistan.

“But once you start to use your defence dollars for non-defence purposes, that’s when you run into difficulties,” said Kim Richard Nossal, a military procurement expert at Queen’s University.

Some experts have estimated that Canada pays an extra 30 per cent on military procurement projects by trying to marry their three different objectives.

The question, Khan said, is whether the Liberals are willing to spend more money to achieve those concurrent objectives, or make the politically-sensitive decision to put military need ahead of jobs.

“Either funding or desired outcomes will have to be significantly adjusted,” he said, “or we will find ourselves having the same discussion interminably.”

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
Not all long-term care workers have received their vaccines including a Red Deer facility

There continues to be confusion in long-term care and supportive living facilities… Continue reading

Cattle graze winter pasture in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies near Longview, Alta. on Jan. 8, 2004. Concern over the provincial government’s decision to drop a coal policy that has protected the eastern slopes of the Rockies for decades is growing among area communities. At least six cities, towns and municipal districts in southwest Alberta have now expressed concern about the decision and the fact it was made with no consultation. The latest is Longview, where mayor Kathie Wight is drafting a letter to the government opposing the move. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
More southern Alberta communities voice concern over province’s plans to expand coal

Concern over the Alberta government’s decision to drop a coal policy that… Continue reading

Some residents say there is no longer an effective Nordegg fire department to respond to emergencies in the West Country. (Contributed photo).
Some Nordegg residents worry about lack of emergency response in the West Country

The possibility of wildfires or accidents is ‘scary’ says former fire leader

(Advocate file photo).
Six idling vehicles stolen in last 48 hours: Red Deer RCMP

Red Deer RCMP said Wednesday six idling vehicles in the city were… Continue reading

FILE - Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has his final meeting of the season with the media at the NHL hockey team's practice facility in Cranberry, Pa., in this Wednesday, May 9, 2018, file photo. Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, a Hall of Famer who helped lead to a pair of Stanley Cup titles, resigned abruptly on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who oversaw Cup wins, resigns

Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who oversaw Cup wins, resigns

Outfielder George Springer is shown in a screengrab from a virtual news conference he took part in on Wednesday, Jan.27, 2021. Springer says he's excited to be a part of a young, talented team like the Toronto Blue Jays, a club he believes has plenty of potential. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Blue Jays introduce outfielder George Springer after signing him to six-year deal

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Bucs fans set to cheer inside, outside Super Bowl stadium

Hamilton Tiger Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tries to fend off Saskatchewan Roughrider Zack Evans during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli signs extension with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot (72) tries to clear Vancouver Canucks centre Jay Beagle (83) from in front of Senators goaltender Marcus Hogberg (1) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, January 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Demko dynamite as Vancouver Canucks beat Ottawa Senators 5-1

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) knocks a rebound away from Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Lowry reaches 10,000-point plateau as a Raptor in 115-108 loss to Milwaukee

Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) and defenseman John Klingberg (3) celebrates a goal by Joe Pavelski against the Nashville Predators during the third period an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)
‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

‘Sloppy’ hockey is the name of the game early in NHL season

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith instructs his team in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, David Zalubowski
With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

With less practice time, NHL morning skates making a comeback in 2021

Most Read