Better RFP Responses & Management
Every Bloody Rake

Every Bloody Rake

As someone who spent a career in the bowels (and yes, the image that brings to mind is exactly right) of the procurement machine on the corporate side, I think this is an interesting albeit discouraging take on Canada’s system of military procurement.

Fighter jet procurement in this country is so fraught it once caused the birth of a new political party. Trying to buy helicopters helped bring down a government. We only successfully bought those helicopters after they became a greater danger to the personnel manning them than they were to any potential adversary. We have been running a procurement for the next generation of fighter jets for an entire generation. Even Yes, Minister writers would have given up on something that absurd.

Our submarine fleet seems to be almost permanently in dry dock. Our most recent ship procurement resulted in the absolutely monstrous prosecution of one of the country’s most accomplished military leaders.

And we just issued a revised bid to finally replace our Second World War-era pistols … last week.

Just cataloguing that level of incompetence is exhausting. No leader or party looks good. The civil service, as the one constant through all these cartoonish blunders, surely has to wear some of this, too. The fact that we seem to repeat the same mistakes can, at least in part, be attributed to a significant institutional memory failure on the part of the people trusted with having the institutional memory.

Now, it is worth noting in fairness that no nation has an easy time with large scale military procurement. Ask the Americans about the development of the V-22 sometime. But, still, no nation has mastered the ability to step on every bloody rake quite as well as Canada.

For similar rants, check out Matt Gurney in the National Post or on Substack. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any knowledgeable commentator with much good to say about the system.

The challenge, for government, companies selling to government, and citizens dagnab it, is to figure out how to do better.



  1. Jim Taylor

    Generally, I don’t read anything about military procurement. When I see it in the newspapers, I turn the page. Ever since the Avro Arrow debacle, I regard the whole process with massive indifference. And skepticism. Maybe even contempt.

    Nevertheless, I’d be interested in your PERSONAL take on the shortcomings of the system. You seem to give the civil service a qualified exoneration — but are they the problem? Is it the politicians? Every political party seems equally incompetent. Is it incompetence among the manufacturers, who apparently are still trying to get the F-35 right? Is it the U.S. which shovels money at the Pentagon with seemingly no oversight on what the Pentagon does with it?

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – My take is that there’s lots of blame to go around. The situations in Canada and the USA are not the same, but here in Canada, companies could step up and refuse to bid on badly/impossibly defined requirements. The public service could learn the difference between cost and value. Client departments could put some effort into training in procurement functions to improve the initial definition of the requirement. Politicians could stop playing silly bugger with procurements to political advantage. Citizens could demand that if we’re going to have a military, then we equip it to do the things we want it to do (and likewise for other government functions). The challenge is that a lot of things have to work right, and work together, and in human affairs that’s rare.

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