New Tory defence shopping list for military will be a work in progress

OTTAWA – The Harper government’s long-anticipated shopping list of ships, planes and armoured vehicles for the Canadian military over the next 20 years will be released by the middle of next month, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Wednesday.

The so-called defence acquisition guide will have up to 200 items as the Conservative government attempts to overhaul its moribund military procurement system, which has been beset with delays and cost overruns.

Nicholson said the guide — to include projects, timelines and estimated costs — will be made public on June 16.

It will be “a forward-looking list of potential opportunities in which the government of Canada may choose to invest,” Nicholson said in brief remarks before an annual gathering of defence and security companies.

The list was one of the key demands of industry, which has often been frustrated by the government’s failed attempts to acquire military equipment.

Defence insiders say another side benefit of the list will be to give other government departments, such as Industry Canada, a heads-up on the long-term requirements of the military.

Lt.-Gen. Guy Thibault, vice chief of defence staff, said the guide is not a commitment, but rather an indication to contractors about what the military needs so industry can propose solutions.

The government had been basing its purchasing decisions on the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy, but many aspects of that plan have been deemed unaffordable since budget cuts that followed the end of the Afghan mission.

Thibault said the new guide was compiled with an eye to affordability.

The government has been examining a revised defence strategy to lay out the missions and expectations of the military.

Thibault was asked about the wisdom of releasing a list of equipment before the government had settled on its vision for the forces.

He said there are core functions and expectations that won’t change, regardless of the policy, and that those will be reflected in the list, expected to be updated annually.

Missions such as protecting Canadians at home, continental defence with the United States and contributing to international missions are basic, he said.

“The enduring requirements won’t change,” Thibault said. “The government, I think, was very clear in the speech from the throne in that context.”

As for the details, he said: “I think we should really wait until the government decides what they really want to bring forward for this reset of the Canada First Defence Strategy.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the list would include as many as 2,000 items.