Pro­cure­ment of­fi­cials hope trou­bles in past

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES/NEWS - BY LEE BERTHIAUME

For any­one hop­ing the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment plans to blow up Canada’s much-ma­ligned mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment sys­tem, Pa­trick Finn has some ad­vice: Don’t hold your breath.

Finn is the De­fence Depart­ment of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the $6-bil­lion-peryear pro­cure­ment sys­tem, which has been crit­i­cized far and wide in re­cent years over a per­ceived fail­ure to de­liver crit­i­cal mil­i­tary equip­ment.

The prob­lems have been blamed on poor plan­ning, red tape and in­ter­nal bick­er­ing, which has tied up ef­forts to buy new air­craft, naval ships and other equip­ment.

There were ex­pec­ta­tions that the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment would fi­nally start to un­ravel the prob­lem with its new de­fence pol­icy last month, which promised an ex­tra $62 bil­lion for the mil­i­tary over the next 20 years.

But the pol­icy made lit­tle men­tion of the pro­cure­ment sys­tem, even though its proper func­tion­ing will be all the more crit­i­cal if and when the promised new de­fence spend­ing starts to flow.

Finn, whose of­fi­cial ti­tle at Na­tional De­fence is as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ter of ma­teriel, be­lieves that af­ter a decade of hard-earned lessons, the sys­tem has fi­nally turned a cor­ner.

“Do I think we’re on the right path? I do,” he said in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“Do I think we’re at the end of that path? We’re not. Do I think we’re through all the grow­ing pains? We’re not, but we’re a lot more ma­ture than we were three, five, eight or 10 years ago.”

The ref­er­ence to 10 years ago is im­por­tant. Na­tional De­fence’s ma­teriel sec­tion had only a hand­ful of pro­cure­ment spe­cial­ists, many of whom were in­ex­pe­ri­enced, when the Harper Con­ser­va­tives un­veiled their own de­fence pol­icy in 2008.

Gut­ted in the 1990s, the

“Do I think we’re on the right path? I do. Do I think we’re at the end of that path? We’re not. Do I think we’re through all the grow­ing pains? We’re not, but we’re a lot more ma­ture than we were three, five, eight or 10 years ago.” Pa­trick Finn

sec­tion strug­gled to pro­duce ac­cu­rate cost es­ti­mates and sched­ules for the bil­lions of dol­lars in new mil­i­tary equip­ment the Tories promised.

Finn said many of the prob­lems can be traced back to that short­age of staff and ex­pe­ri­ence, and he ac­knowl­edged that hav­ing enough skilled per­son­nel re­mains his top risk. His 4,200-strong work­force is in the process of adding 300 more staff by the end of next sum­mer, he said, while many of his staff have the hard-earned ex­pe­ri­ence to know what works, and what doesn’t.

“The na­ture of the con­ver­sa­tions that we’re hav­ing com­pared to 10 years ago, it’s kind of ex­cit­ing be­cause we’re re­ally kind of get­ting into: ‘Be care­ful, we’ve done this over the years.”’

An­other sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem was the fact the Con­ser­va­tives didn’t set aside enough money for their pol­icy, which led to a merry-go-round of try­ing to match avail­able fund­ing to the mil­i­tary’s needs.

Finn is hope­ful that the Lib­er­als’ de­fence pol­icy, which the gov­ern­ment says has been rig­or­ously costed by six ac­count­ing firms, will fi­nally fix that prob­lem by ac­knowl­edg­ing the real cost of dif­fer­ent gear.

One ex­am­ple: while the Con­ser­va­tives said 15 war­ships would cost $26 bil­lion, the Lib­er­als say the ac­tual price tag will be closer to $60 bil­lion.

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