In The Media

Is Ottawa heading for another military procurement disaster?

by Chris Hall (feat. Dave Perry)

CBC News
Dec 16, 2017

The Liberal government has a new rule book for judging procurement competitions — they're just not sure what's in it.

Along with announcing the long-awaited launch of the competition to replace the country's aging CF-18s on Tuesday, the Liberal government also revealed its intention to evaluate all future defence purchases through the lens of whether individual companies have helped or hurt the overall Canadian economy.

Carla Qualtrough, minister of public services and procurement, said they're still hammering out what the criteria will be and how heavily it will be weighed when deciding who ultimately will make Canada's next fleet of fighter jets.

"We're going to work over the next year to really flesh that out with industry, with suppliers, with experts," she told The House.

"We haven't come down to the technical details."

Already analysts have flagged potential political, trade, legal and even military consequences.

Dave Perry, an analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who follows the procurement file, said lawyers could have a field day with that.

"When you get down to the nuts and bolts, the government is going to draw up with a naughty and nice list for whether company A or B is helping or hurting the Canadian economy," he said.

Perry said unless the government comes up with some "mathematical formula based on market evidence," the policy would inject a "degree of subjectivity" into contracts that companies can contest either in court or before international trade tribunals.

"Oh, this has elements of subjectivity for sure and we can't avoid that," said Qualtrough

The self-described "minister of process" said they'll likely flesh out the criteria between finalizing the suppliers list and formalizing the request for proposal.

Qualtrough said the party has consulted with government lawyers.

"We of course wouldn't be announcing a policy direction if we didn't think it was legally prudent to take this direction," she said.

The impact of this week's decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to reverse rules that regulated internet providers like utilities, freeing providers to block or slow access to content and services online, might not end up being felt by Canadians, but that won't stop the Liberal government from loudly voicing its concerns.

"This will impact consumers, business and our democracy," Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, told The House.

"When individuals or companies need to get access to the internet, have to pay more for that, or have gatekeepers, there's going to be consequences for consumers in terms of the information they receive and how much they pay for that information. Right now information is treated equally, that no longer will be the case going forward."

Bains said the Canadian government is working on ways to strengthen the legislation that is already in place in Canada which enforces net neutrality.

He also suggested Canada could use the ongoing NAFTA talks and the G7 to discuss the issue.

"The objective would be to make sure that no private companies or internet service providers or telecommunication companies should be throttling or blocking information," he said.

But not everybody believes the FCC's decision will be felt beyond America's borders.

​"What the FCC does is only applicable to the United States." Srinivasan Keshav,  a professor of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, told The House.

Keshav added that Canadian consumers shouldn't be worried.

"The Americans don't own the internet, and their rulings don't affect the rest of the world."

We asked the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, what she considers to be the biggest political story of 2017, and her answer came quickly.

"The biggest kick in the gut was the withdrawal of the commitment to electoral reform because the parliamentary committee on electoral reform had heard from tens of thousands of Canadians. The vast majority wanted to see us get rid of the 'first past the post voting system," she said.

As far as 2018 is concerned, May's wish is... to take a little politics out of, well, politics.

"If we could take the political party operatives and shut them away in a locked time capsule and not let them out until the next writ period, we'd be much better off," she told The House.

"My sense is that there's a real significant lack of cooperation because the opposition parties aren't looking at 'how do we make parliament function well', they're looking at how do we pile up a whole bunch of sound bites to make the Liberals look bad later. I'm hoping desperately that we can get people to be more respectful of our democracy and parliament itself, but those spin doctor people - they're the problem."

Transport Minister Marc Garneau arrived at the Senate this week spoiling for a fight. And he got one.

What the normally even-keeled minister didn't expect was to lose his bid to get senators to move more quickly on his bill that, among other things, would strengthen the rights of airline passengers.

Garneau is the latest — and likely won't be the last — cabinet minister to learn that Justin Trudeau's efforts to create a less partisan, more independent Senate are working too well. The days of the upper chamber rubber-stamping government bills are over.

"I'm not sure ministers spend a lot of time thinking about that circumstance," said Sen. Frances Lankin, a former Ontario NDP cabinet minister who is among the 30 independent senators the prime minister has named.

She joined Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan and Senate Liberal Terry Mercer on The House to discuss the Senate's growing assertiveness. That assertiveness includes proposing amendments to about 20 per cent of the bills sent from the Commons, and refusing to shorten debate over others despite pressure from the sponsoring cabinet ministers to pass them quickly.

"Our job is not to rubber-stamp," said Carignan. "Justin Trudeau in the election said that he wants the Senate to do its job properly. And if a bill has to be amended, he invited us to amend and that's what we are doing."

The Senate's stubbornness has been noted before. But the government's frustration with the pace of review, as evidenced by Garneau, is growing.

Mercer told The House it's time for cabinet ministers to reconsider their approach to the Senate.

"I think that, generally, you can say that the government has not paid enough attention to the Senate and has not paid enough attention to the management of the process."

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