The mad scramble to safe protecting medical equipment and ventilators within the midst of a worldwide pandemic has given some of the individuals who work within the normally tedious world of authorities procurement an unwelcome excuse to say, “I told you so.”
For years, there have been quiet however persistent calls for popping out of the defence and acquisition sectors for successive federal governments to develop a listing of “strategic industries” that do not should depend on overseas provide chains — as insurance coverage in opposition to the sort of procurement panic in play proper now.
Those calls had been largely ignored. Now, defence experts are saying the COVID-19 disaster is a expensive wake-up name.
Canada wants — and has wanted for nearly twenty years — a 21st century national security industrial plan that focuses on important equipment and supplies that needs to be produced at house, not overseas.
“We’ve been totally negligent on that and it is something I have articulated over and over again,” stated Alan Williams, the previous head of the procurement department on the Department of National Defence.
“It’s absolutely critical and if this doesn’t wake us to that reality, I don’t know what would.”
Williams devoted a considerable portion of one of his books, Reinventing Canadian Defence Procurement: A View from the Inside, to the absence of a national security imaginative and prescient of Canadian trade.
“It frankly pisses me off because there’s no reason for us not to have done that,” he stated.
“That should be the kind of thing ministers, the leaders of the country desperately want to do. And why we seem to have avoided that kind of strategic thinking … It just boggles my mind. It’s inexcusable.”
‘Key’ industries geared towards commerce, not tragedies
There was a faint glimmer of hope within the preliminary debate over the National Shipbuilding Strategy a decade in the past, when the previous Conservative authorities made a aware determination to construct future warships, Canadian Coast Guard and fisheries vessels in Canada, as a substitute of outsourcing the work to different nations.
At least within the context of defence procurement, Canada does have what are generally known as “key industrial capabilities”, together with shipbuilding, the manufacturing of sure varieties of ammunition and the development of a vary of aerospace and maritime digital methods.
Much of the work of these “key” home industries is, nonetheless, geared towards making high-end elements for international provide chains. Critics have usually stated the coverage focuses on high-tech innovation and enterprise priorities, fairly than hard-headed national security pursuits.
Other nations, Williams stated, have carved out an area for national security pursuits in industrial coverage by not permitting different nations to construct sure items of equipment. The Japanese, for instance, have retained the potential to assemble their very own warplanes.
A shift in pondering
The COVID-19 disaster, which has uncovered a doubtlessly lethal scarcity of ventilators and protecting equipment for medical professionals, will push the federal authorities into a radical re-evaluation of what we want to have the ability to construct at house to guard the nation.
In some respects, that work has already began.
Earlier this week, reflecting on the Trump administration’s strikes to limit exports of protecting equipment, Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed dismay over how the destiny of so many Canadians had been taken out of the arms of the federal and provincial governments.
“I am just so, so disappointed right now,” he stated. “We have a great relationship with the U.S. and all of a sudden they pull these shenanigans. But as I said yesterday, we will never rely on any other country going forward.”
Over the previous two weeks, the federal authorities has introduced plans to pour greater than $2 billion into sourcing and buying protecting medical equipment — masks, robes, face shields, hand sanitizer — at house. On Tuesday, Ottawa unveiled a plan to get three Canadian corporations to construct 30,000 ventilators.
Health equipment could have been outdoors the conventional definition of national security wants till only a few weeks in the past — however the shifting geopolitical panorama supplied one other warning signal that was ignored, stated procurement knowledgeable Dave Perry.
Leaning on China
“This is pointing out the flip side of our globalized world and globalized supply chains,” stated Perry, an analyst and vice chairman on the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “The cold, hard truth is that we’re going to be relying on China for critical supplies.”
When the coronavirus outbreak ramped up, federal officers ought to have been conscious of the potential peril concerned in counting on Chinese factories for therefore many important objects.
But within the absence of homegrown functionality, Canada is on the mercy of panicked nations within the midst of panicked shopping for.
“The entire world is trying to put through orders from the same sets of factories we’re trying to source from,” Perry stated.
“It might be accurate to criticize the Chinese for their response, but in the current context the government has to be cognizant of the impact on our potential ability to source stuff we really, really need right now from China — when there’s not a lot of other options available in the short term and when the rest of the world is making the same phone calls.”
One of the important arguments in opposition to a homegrown national security industrial technique has been the fee. It’s an argument acquainted from the shipbuilding context: taxpayers pay a premium after we process Canadian trade with delivering options, as a substitute of turning to cheaper overseas producers.
Elinor Sloan, a defence coverage knowledgeable at Carleton University, stated she believes the disaster will focus the general public’s consideration on securing the important industries and provides the nation wants in a worldwide disaster.
“The trade-off, as we know, is that it can be more costly to build or produce at home,” she stated. “This crisis may engender a perspective among the public that the extra cost is worth it.”