The issues surrounding defence acquisition took a backseat in the run up to the 2019 federal election. As noted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, this occurred despite the fact that two of the largest defence procurements in Canadian history – the Canadian Surface Combatants (warships) project and the Future Fighter Capability Program (fighter jets) – are in active procurement mode, spending is falling short of forecast and roughly 70 per cent of the approved projects under the 2017 implementation of the Strong, Secure, Engaged Defence Policy have seen schedule delays.
Canadian defence procurement is a many-layered affair. Spread across three departments and a central agency (the Department of National Defence; Public Procurement and Services Canada; Innovation, Science and Economic Development; and Treasury Board, respectively), the need to coordinate and align this much bureaucracy is often viewed as one of the significant problems in defence procurement.
The two main political parties offered very different solutions to these issues during the election, but provided few details.
The Conservatives focused on the need to "de-politicize" the procurement process, which would in turn deliver greater value for money and better resources for the Canadian military. To accomplish this, new oversight mechanisms, both in Cabinet and in the Privy Council Office, would be created. Major defence procurements are already subject to oversight by the Defence Procurement Secretariat, a Deputy Ministers Governance Committee and a Ministers Working Group. It is not entirely clear how additional layers of oversight would reduce delay and improve efficiencies, unless the new mechanisms replaced all or some of the current oversight layers.
The Liberal platform included a portion on defence procurement that pointed to the creation of "Defence Procurement Canada," to ensure defence projects were delivered on time and with greater transparency. The structure of Defence Procurement Canada was not explained. A bit of speculation is now in order as to what this could mean for defence procurement.
The New Cabinet
The Liberals formed a minority government and announced their new Cabinet on Nov. 20. While the Ministers of Defence (Harjit Sajjan) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development (Navdeep Bains) remain the same, Treasury Board has a new President and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has a new Minister – Jean-Yves Duclos and Anita Anand, respectively.
Treasury Board President Duclos moves from a smaller, specific portfolio within Employment and Social Development Canada to now preside over one of the federal government's most powerful central agencies and cabinet committees. He will have a considerable role in ensuring effective financial management and government spending. Minister Anand is a new face in Cabinet and a first-time Member of Parliament for the riding of Oakville, Ont. She is assuming responsibility for, amongst other things, the two single largest purchasing organizations in the federal government (PSPC and Shared Services Canada (SSC)).
Defence procurement in Canada follows a general ebb and flow – resources are increased during times of conflict and are reduced in times of peace. Restructuring occurs in response to these influences, as well as perceived redundancies, desired efficiencies and the odd scandal or two. Various Minsters and departments have been responsible for defence procurement and production over the past 100 years, including boards or commissions set up during times of war.
A new independent department for defence procurement would result in three different departments (SSC, PSPC and the Defence Procurement Canada) managing the vast majority of federal acquisition. This approach would be similar to the stand up of the Department of Defence Production in the '50s. The DDP had a short life. Established in 1951, it was expanded to become the central purchasing organization in 1963 as an interim measure, then disbanded in 1969 with the establishment of the Department of Supply and Services. The amalgamations of various entities continued until 1993, with the creation of the Department of Public Works and Government Services (a.k.a. PSPC). PSPC operates as a central purchasing agent for the government, with exclusive authority under the Defence Production Act to acquire defence supplies for DND.
If Defence Procurement Canada is to exist as a departmental corporation or agency, the government would want to launch this new entity early in its mandate so that it can lay claim to any degree of efficiency or success achieved. If so, the new entity would likely remain within PSPC, as the Minister has existing statutory authority to create a supporting departmental corporation or agency under the Defence Production Act. Creating this entity outside of PSPC's current authority would require a significant reorganization of the public service and change to the operations of government of a magnitude greater than that required to establish Shared Services Canada – this would include deciding whether to maintain or decentralize the functions of defence procurement and defence production, as well as significant statutory amendments to provide or reduce, as required, the authority of all Ministers involved.
Ministerial mandate letters, which were released in mid-December, shed no additional light on the specific operational structure or corporate identity that Defence Procurement Canada is expected to take. Notable in these letters, however, is a prevailing theme: Minister Anand has the clear responsibility for bringing forward options to Cabinet, but that effort will be supported by a host of respected, senior ministers, including Minister Sajjan (National Defence), Minister Jordan (Fisheries & Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard), and Minister Bains (Innovation, Science and Industry). As all of these Ministries are already involved in defence procurement, their continued support is not surprising.
Throughout the history of defence acquisition and production in Canada, large-scale reorganization has been predicated by one of three events: war, post-war reconstruction or scandal. Absent one of these triggers, a minority government may have little appetite (or be able to drum up support from any other party) to stand up a wholly new department, or even a departmental corporation or agency within PSPC itself, on the basis of efficiency and economy alone, particularly in light of the on-going Phoenix debacle and the continued issues at Shared Services Canada.
As no new Minister for Defence Procurement Canada was named in the new Cabinet nor were any Additional Ministers within PSPC named for defence or Defence Procurement Canada, it appears that, at least for now, any defence acquisition reorganization is likely to remain on the backburner.