Richard B. Fadden, O.C. former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister and Deputy Minister of National Defence
LGen (ret) Guy Thibault, former Vice Chief of the Defence Staff
In National Defence, getting the money is the easiest part…
Given the deterioration of the international security situation, the Prime Minister has said he is open to additional defence spending. Assuming Mr. Trudeau meant what he said, getting additional defence resources approved though Cabinet and Parliament is fairly straightforward. The first real challenge is determining on what the money is to be spent. Then comes the seemingly impossible task of getting spending decisions effectively implemented as quickly as possible.
Mr. Trudeau is the last in a relatively long line of Prime Ministers who have pauperized Canada’s defence establishment. Whether they regret or are content with their decisions, is not important except that it explains why virtually every part of Canada’s defence establishment needs new resources. In seeking to revitalize the operational capabilities of the Canadian Forces, it is important to appreciate that this will not happen if new resources are exclusively directed to the CAF. The Department of National Defence (the civilian part of the Defence portfolio) and Public Services and Procurement in particular will need additional resources.
New resources for the Canadian Forces can be spent in four ways. The first category is major capital procurement – the fighter aircraft replacement and Canadian Surface Combatant programs are examples. The second category is minor capital procurement- sidearms or armour vests are examples. The third category covers personnel costs – both those relating to current personnel as well costs relating to increasing the head-count of the Forces. The fourth category includes funding for infrastructure – everything from runways, to jetties to personnel housing). The last category might be called operational costs which come in two parts: those relating to training and those relating to actual operations in Canada and abroad. If the Government is serious about increasing the capabilities of the Forces, all five categories will need an injection of money and on-going attention by both Ministers and the public service. The challenge we’d like to focus in on below is the procurement process itself.
Defence procurement is under constant criticism for being overly slow and expensive. There are three main reasons for these shortcomings. The first is the insistence of successive governments that defence procurement support policy objectives other than procuring equipment for the Forces. Objectives such as regional and industrial development, support to innovation and others are all laudable but applying them automatically to major projects means that the procurement of defence equipment takes second place. The second reason is the extreme risk aversion of both Ministers and public servants to anything going wrong such that an already heavy process is over layered with checks and balances and delays for additional study. Whether these precautions are to help avoid questions in the House, stories in the media or visits to the Federal Court or the International Trade Tribunal they mean delays and cost increases.
The third reason is the view of Governments — admittedly broadly supported by public opinion – that national security and defence are not as important as any number of other policy areas. This means that defence spending gets a low priority, frequent cutbacks and poor priority setting. In any event, the shortcomings of the procurement process can be shared between politicians, public servants and CF personnel.
A number of possible measures to improve the procurement process are set out below but even the best procurement system on the planet would not change the fact that defence is an expensive business. Currently, for Canada, defence will be especially expensive as we will be — or should be — playing catch-up with most of our allies.
The first aid to an improved defence procurement system is sustained prime ministerial and ministerial attention based on their belief that the national security of Canada and of its allies requires it. This will happen most easily if Canadians generally share that view but whether this is the case or not, it is the responsibility of governments to lead and to do what it is necessary to provide it. Surely, the current international environment requires nothing less.
If the above is forthcoming, the second aid will develop relatively easily. This would be an acceptance that greater risks are to be taken to advance specific procurement projects, including that public servants be encouraged to recommend — where appropriate — that specific procurement projects be exempt from some or all the rules which govern them. This should specifically include the possibility of subordinating other policy objectives to the delivery of required equipment. The third aid is the acceptance by all — including the Forces — that while perfection is always desirable when developing capability requirements, sometime getting something promptly is the desirable course.
The final aid is utilizing at least some new defence resources on existing projects. For example, topping up the CSC budget to ensure that the full number of — fully capable — projected ships be delivered. Another example, relates to the need to increase our defence presence in the Arctic and could mean upgrading the Nanisivik Naval Facility to at least what was initially intended — a year-round capability including one or more runways to accommodate both Canadian and NATO aircraft. The same sort of upgrade could be applied to the Canadian Army’s Arctic Training Center. Finally, to improve communications and surveillance in the Arctic , build on existing commitments to support the on-going development of a low earth orbit constellation which could support both military and civilian needs.
There seems to be agreement in Canada and throughout NATO that we are all facing a very dangerous international environment. If this is the case, Canada will need to up its game on national security and defence. This will mean, as a former Deputy Prime Minister once said, our not going to the washroom when the bill is being circulated! But, it’s not only money, it’s ongoing attention by the Prime Minister and appropriate Ministers. And given Canada’s history in this area, the key is “on-going” attention. As Minister Anand has noted, Canada can get things done when its important – vaccine acquisition and distribution being the latest examples.