by David Perry
The Hill Times
March 7, 2018
Last June, the Trudeau government published Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canada’s latest defence policy. While generally well received, significant skepticism has been expressed about the implementation of an ambitious policy with 130 initiatives requiring $60-billion in new spending over 20 years.
The final spending plans for this fiscal year show that skepticism was warranted. National Defence is on track to fall billions short of the spending plan outlined in the policy. While $6-billion in capital investments was forecast, DND was allocated only $4-billion and will spend even less.
It’s early days for a 20-year policy, and progress has been made on several personnel initiatives. But the early failure to spend procurement funds as intended is cause for serious concern that the major purchases around which this policy is based will not come to fruition as planned.
The most serious issue our military faced prior to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s policy review was a shortage of funding for equipment. Fixing this deficiency was vital if this government wanted to retain a military able to do the same types of things it had in the past. Our army, air force and navy need logistics support, communications gear, and surveillance assets whether we send them to fight wars overseas or fires at home.
Basic projects like these were unfunded before Strong, Secure, Engaged rectified that situation, funding 52 new major projects that will let the military keep its basic equipment and make modest investments in areas like cyber defence.
To make this happen, the policy forecast annual spending on these budget items would need to quadruple over the next six years to $13-billion. After years of spending a little more than $3-billion a year, this will require a paradigm shift in Canadian defence procurement. If achieved, it will provide our forces the tools they need to do their jobs. But this planned spending has a broader meaning as well. Capital investments represent three quarters of the new money in Trudeau’s defence policy, and the lion’s share of his government’s much-advertised 70 per cent rise in annual spending and increase in the share of Canada’s gross domestic product devoted to defence spending.
But just publishing a policy and topping up the defence budget on its own won’t re-capitalize the military, increase spending, or see Canada’s share of the defence burden grow. Only procuring new equipment, and a lot more of it, will. So far, that isn’t happening.
Instead of the major increase called for in the policy, DND is on pace to spend about the same amount on capital procurement as it has for the last several years. Unless this changes, and quickly, our military will face an increasing number of capability gaps and our contribution to collective defence with our allies will atrophy.
The few initiatives outlined in the policy to improve our procurement system are insufficient to achieve this. While they are sound ideas, adding 60 staff to a workforce of several thousand, making small changes to one part of an extraordinarily complicated process and allowing DND to buy low-cost items itself, are so far proving incapable of facilitating many more purchases of costly, complex major projects.
If Trudeau actually wants to see the big increase in procurement his policy calls for, he’ll need to make some commensurately big changes happen. Some combination of major change to the capacity and competency of the procurement workforce, the procurement process, and the governance structure managing it are needed before we could expect a major change in procurement output. Anything else can’t be expected to produce anything more than a marginal improvement on the status quo, and that won’t leave Canada strong, secure, or engaged.
David Perry is vice president and senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He just published the report Following the Funding in Strong, Secure, and Engaged.