Sole-Sourcing Scenario
Jan 15, 2006

Many in the defence industry community have taken DND to task over the department’s intention to fast-track new tactical airlift for the Canadian Forces. While no one disputes the frequent advantages of competition, this type of habitual insistence on traditional competition is not helpful and is clearly a symptom of a larger problem – the general failure to appreciate DND’s central and fundamental importance in the defence of the nation; a role so important that it makes DND significantly different from other government departments.

The maintenance of a strong and capable defence capacity – the degree to which the country can generate, apply and ­sustain military force to protect Canadians – is a prime, whole of government, responsibility. Canada’s national security policy declares that “there can be no greater role, no more important obligation for a government, than the protection and safety of its citizens”. Then, in his overview to the Interna­tional Policy Statement, the Prime Minister reinforces that notion by stating that “the first duty of government is to protect its citizens.”

National defence has a significant foot in both domestic and international security camps, and therefore the mandate of the Minister of National Defence extends over the breadth of the government’s most important role.

The Department of National Defence acts as the Government’s lead department in managing Canada’s defence capacity, or at least it should. The sustainment of adequate defence capacity is fundamentally critical to the maintenance of our national security and the effective conduct of our foreign affairs. In fact, contrary to traditional thinking, national defence policy is no longer a simple derivative of foreign, national security or any other policy. Defence policy is now the “rate limiting step,” as Senator Colin Kenny puts it, because our national security and international policies are only as effective as the defence capacity that backs them up. Policy can be turned on a dime, with a new government, a new minister or new economic conditions. Defence capabilities, on the other hand, take years to acquire and are not easily altered.

National defence should be everybody’s business. The conduct of national defence affairs is too important to be subject to the whims of partisan politics. National defence administration must be revolutionized and a new paradigm defined. Defence policy development should be a non-partisan activity. The leaders of major political parties must begin to cooperate in crafting defence policy and reach concurrence in designing defence budgets.

Central agencies and their bureaucratic processes should be re-oriented to ensure they act as an ‘accelerator’ for defence capacity, rather than the traditional ‘drag’ that checks every penny spent, enforces every politically-correct regulation and nips any potentially embarrassing event in the bud.

There should be a regular review of defence policy – say, every four years – conducted on an all-party basis and independent of political agendas of the day. The aim would be to arrive at an up-to-date defence policy that offers some stability over the long term. Stability in defence funding would be a helpful result of this new way.

Everyone now seems to understand that the defence capital equipment procurement process needs to be modernized, speeded up and made to be capable of keeping up with operational requirements. It seems most central agencies are onside, but Public Works and Government Services Canada remains the lone stick in the mud because they cannot let go of the bureaucratic processes that provide so much of their work – and necessitate the retention of so much staff. One way of avoiding unnecessary procedures would be to have DND procurement be subject to commercial competition only if and when it absolutely needed to be. The selective use of sole-sourcing would significantly reduce the time taken to get needed military equipment. Too often, unnecessary competition delays procurement. The long, sorry saga of the new Maritime Helicopter proves the point.

Occasionally, when an obvious, in-service option is available, the lack of competition has allowed DND to acquire a capability fast enough for it to be of use. The replacement of the Iltis with the G-Wagon in Afghanistan is one example. To satisfy legitimate concerns about achieving value for the public money spent, sole-sourced or fast-tracked projects should be liable to subsequent review by the Auditor General of Canada, which if carried out will not only discourage slipshod project management, but will provide valuable lessons learned.

So, the sole-sourcing, or at least truncated-competitive procurement, of new tactical airlift for the Air Force is seen to be a welcome indication that the government realizes that the management of national defence affairs is of such fundamental importance to the security of the nation that it should not be held hostage to traditional bureaucratic practices. The generation and sustainment of Canada’s defence capacity is a ‘whole-of-government’ responsibility. National defence is everybody’s business, a business led by DND on behalf of all Canadians. In this role, DND is clearly a department unlike the others.

BGen (ret) James Cox, FrontLine’s Security Advisor, is a corporate intelligence consultant in Ottawa and a PhD Candidate in War Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, pursuing advanced intelligence studies. Previously, he served as the Executive Secretary of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.
© FrontLine Defence 2006