The review of Canada defence policy will be the most far-reaching and influential review that Trudeau government will undertake and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan needs work towards a more transparent and “de-politicized” procurement process, according to two defence issue experts.
There has not been a defence review in Canada since the Defence White Paper of 1994 was released. The current Liberal government has pledged to make significant changes to the national defence policy to create a “leaner, more agile, and better-equipped military.”
“If history is any guide, the equipment choices alone shaped by this effort could impact defence for up to seventy years in the future,” George Petrolekas, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and David Perry, senior analysts for the same organization, said in an open letter they wrote to Sajjan.
They said Sajjan has a unique opportunity to create a national consensus around defence since all three major parties agree the defence budget published in 2015 should be the funding base and three parties see the need for a defence review and support the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSPS).
“As your review starts, you will be constrained by the legacies of previous governments,” they warned.
They reminded Sajjan that proposed investments dictated by the current strategy which was created in 2008 “outstrip the supply of available funding by tens of billions of dollars.”
The defence policy needs to be connected to financial reality, according to the analysts.
“However you address this problem, the strategy must be in alignment with the budget,” the letter said. “The previous government’s Canada First Defence Strategy had many initiatives to commend it, but its aspirations could never be financed or realized. Avoid that trap.”
Perry and Petrolekas pointed out that Sajjan also inherited a procurement process made unwieldy and cumbersome by layers of bureaucratic red tape.
“At present, even the simplest of procurements can require more than a decade of often repetitive bureaucratic effort. Across defence, these efforts are complicated because the financial wherewithal was never synchronized to the capital aspirations,” they wrote.
The most significant and complex procurement issues that need immediate attention has to do with shipbuilding, according to the analysts.
Critical decisions must be made in the next year on projects that will build up the navy’s combat fleet. Sajjan will have to determine how many and what types of ships will be built as well as who will design and build them.
“Your government may put those decisions on hold to make sure they fit within your vision of the armed forces (adding time and costs), allowing the projects to proceed as planned with marginal adjustments (meaning your naval priorities won’t significantly change) or to recalibrate shipbuilding projects entirely to fit a new naval vision (incurring political costs),” Perry and Petrolekas said.
They also advised that Sajjan take the time to carefully examine the options regarding the replacement for the air force’s CF-18 fighter aircraft in order to “get this decision right.”