Editorial: Time to Get it Right

Delaying Military Spending Compounds the Problem
Matt Nicholls
March 05, 2014
By
As a young man not yet versed in the day-to-day processes of life, my parents taught me two important lessons that helped shape my philosophies today: don’t put something off that may very well come back to bite you, and if you failed to remember point number one, always fix the problem pronto before it turns into a bigger one down the road. Procrastination, indecision and uncertainty are anything but aspects of strong leadership and such a road is usually full of minefields.

Which brings us to the decision of the federal conservatives to push some $3.1 billion in planned capital spending for Canada’s military to the back burner in its recently released federal budget. Long expected by some in military circles, the delays in purchasing new fighter jets to replace the aging CH-18 and new maritime helicopters to replace the veritable CH-124 Sea Kings, and the introduction of new search-and-rescue (SAR) aircraft for the much-needed SAR efforts nationwide, are simply the latest examples of just how mismanaged the military procurement and budgetary processes are in this country.

Minister of finance Jim Flaherty suggests the delay in decision-making will not mean a reduction in military spending but instead gives the government time to make a proper decision on each of these procurements. “There’s no point in having money sitting there when they can’t spend it this year,” Flaherty told the Canadian Press prior to the budget’s release. “We’re pushing it forward, not taking it back.” How much time does it take to make the proper decision? Such a spin may sound like fiscal prudence, but it seems like it has more to do with political posturing than with being prudent or providing the hardware Canadians need, expect and deserve. The move is simply meant to help cut the deficit and place the conservatives in a much better position for a 2015 election.

Improved maritime operations, more efficient SAR capability, enhanced Arctic sovereignty, greater border security, more efficient and safer operational situations for the Royal Canadian Air Force, manageable maintenance and upkeep of equipment costs – all apparently are not part of the immediate equation. I wonder what the political ramifications of these might be? Would they influence the deficit? Given the escalating costs of upkeep, maintenance, training and more, of course they would.

The three aforementioned military procurements have become political footballs over the past number of months (and years), exposing major problems in government structure and leadership. The much-maligned CH-148 Cyclone project continues to drag on with Sikorsky only recently being granted the chance to redeem itself and get the blades turning. The Sea King fleet is in desperate need of replacement and doubts remain as to the viability of the late December decision to forge ahead with the Cyclone project. Sikorsky, which has incurred millions of dollars in late fees, came within inches of losing the deal to a competitor and has vowed to meet all deadlines going forward. With so much swirling in the wind, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the Cyclone will live up to expectations, though Sikorsky president Mick Mauer said at Heli-Expo in Anaheim Feb. 25 that the program is back on track.

In terms of the CF-18 replacement, the political backlash over the F-35 continues. The program was put on hold in December 2012 and a decision has yet to be made as to whether or not a competition will be held to determine a new supplier. Critics maintain it’s entirely the wrong option for the job, which simply underscores the mess this has become.

In early February, the feds took steps to redefine the military procurement process. Defence minister Rob Nicholson and public works minister Diane Finley announced changes to bring more scrutiny to military spending. The new system will see increased cooperation among defence, public works and industry officials under an umbrella secretariat at public works. It’s a good first step and will hopefully rein in a process that is terribly out of control. With as much as $200 billion earmarked for military spending on trucks, helicopters, fighter jets and ships over the next 20 years, indecision, procrastination and mismanagement will simply lead to bigger mistakes. It can’t continue. Canadians need leaders to lead – we deserve and demand a stronger sense of order when it comes to military spending and procurement.

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