Another government term almost over, and military procurement is still a mess

From the Top of the Pile


I watched an interesting video the other day on Facebook. It was one of Canada’s new maritime helicopters, a Lockheed Martin (formerly Sikorsky) CH-148 Cyclone. The chopper was actually operationally deployed on a Canadian frigate, and doing things such choppers are supposed to do, like deploying its sonar.

Wow, that’s pretty cool. It took us nearly three decades to get to this point. I’ve been writing this column for 27 years, and one of my earliest columns talked about then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien cancelling the Sea King replacement, then known as the EH-101. (“I will take my pen and write zero ‘elicopters, Chretien,” he famously said at the time.

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It seems I end up writing a similar column every few years, because nothing changes. Our military procurement over the last three decades has been a farce beyond words.

It’s going to take until something like 2022 before our new helicopters are fully deployed, even though the last Sea King finally went out of service not too long ago.

We are soon going to see an “open competition” for a new fighter plane. Curiously, this competition will begin with less than five months remaining in the current Justin Trudeau government’s mandate, before the October federal election.

This is to buy 88 planes (up from the 65 F-35s the Stephen Harper Conservative government had announced, then reneged on). This supposed open competition will take place despite Trudeau promising not to buy the F-35, even though Canada signed up for the plane’s program in 2006. We’ve already contributed $500 million towards it.

The Liberals eventually acknowledged it wouldn’t be that open a competition with one of the leading contenders not allowed to participate. So it should be in, unless it’s not.

Apparently there are currently issues with the Americans about Canada’s industrial benefits policy regarding the plane. (Countries usually try to finagle as much as they can out of such a purchase through “industrial benefits”). They sent us some nasty letters last year pointing out our prior obligations. So who knows what’s going to happen?

All I know for sure is that we still don’t have new fighters, and Israel is standing up its second squadron of F-35s already. We’re buying Australia’s old F-18s to supplement our worn out fleet. Why are they for sale? Because Australia’s bought the F-35 already.

As for the ships those aforementioned choppers are supposed to land on, the former vice chief of defence staff is currently being dragged through the courts on a bovine feces charge regarding a supposed leak regarding procuring a desperately needed supply ship. He was a big supporter of what became the M/V Asterix, which we are currently leasing to replace the now-retired two supply ships we used to operate. We’re still down one. We could have another, but there’s a lot of politics around that, too.

The politics are so bad that Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the officer whose career has been destroyed in this, isn’t even having his lawyers paid for by the government. He’s paying for it out of his own pocket, and a GoFundMe page that’s supporting him. How insane is that?

Our supposedly awesome national shipbuilding strategy, announced several years ago, had yet to even begin cutting steel on a fleet of up to 15 ships to replace our rusted out and retired destroyers, and eventually our frigates as well. If things keep going at the pace they have been for the helicopters and fighters, I expect we’ll see the last ship delivered in the 22nd century.

All of this is just scratching the surface of the absolute calamity that military procurement has become. To those who think I’m a Conservative apologist, I flail them equally with the Liberals in this regard. Very, very few programs in recent years have successfully supplied our military with the hardware they need. I’m sure there are officers who have spent the bulk of their careers dealing with this, and will retire with little satisfaction.

Nothing seems to work, and no one seems to accomplish anything. I think this is largely because governments, both red and blue, would prefer to punt programs down the road at every opportunity they get, and spend money elsewhere.

It’s an embarrassment. It’s ridiculous. And apparently, it’s entirely Canadian.

It was recently announced that retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, formerly head of the Canadian Army, will not be running again for the Liberals, whose back bench he’s spent the last 3.5 years warming as a member of Parliament. He’s apparently expected to testify on behalf of Vice-Admiral Norman, which is likely one of the reasons he never got the post of defence minister.

His last role in uniform was as “chief of transformation.” I wonder, if Leslie had ended up in defence, would things have changed? Maybe we would have seen some success in defence procurement, finally.

Now we’ll never know.

Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at


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