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The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Strikes (out) Again

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Strikes (out) Again

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has just published a new report, authored by the Rideau Institute’s Steven Staples. The report, entitled No bang for the buck: Military contracting and public accountability gets a reluctant ‘thumbs up’ from The Ruxted Group for two of its four recommendations. It gets jeers, however, for the so-called analysis which led to those recommendations. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives makes a couple of decent recommendations but it got to them through a process of 'analysis' which is deeply flawed. The 'right answers' do not make up for the pages of unadulterated rubbish which precedes them.
First, the good news. The Ruxted Group partially endorses Mr. Staples’ contentions that:

• “Responsibility for defence procurement should be made the responsibility of the Minister of National Defence, rather than shared across several ministries as it is now …” and

• “New institutional arrangements should be established that will allow government procurement to proceed at a reasonable pace while ensuring appropriate parliamentary oversight. For example, the government could establish a Standing Committee on Defence Procurement.”

Ruxted might quibble at some of the details. For example it might be preferable to establish an arms length public agency to do defence procurement – taking the responsibility and the potential for perceived conflict of interest away from politicians. This is the method Canada uses to sell military hardware – through the Canadian Commercial Corporation; why should it nor be how Canada buys military hardware too? Or, shades of C.D. Howe, how about a separate Ministry of Munitions and Defence Supply if something akin to the (1939) Defence Procurement Board lacks the necessary capabilities to buy what’s needed when it’s needed at the best possible price? Canadian defence procurement has been beset by political scandals from the time Sir Frederick Middleton battled with local magnates over readying the Canadian militia for operations in 1885 through to some currently ‘serving’ politicians’ attempts to ensure that Québec gets its ‘fair’ share of recently announced defence contracts. The big problem is political pork-barrelling, not limited competition between airplanes which fly, now, and those which exist only on the drawing boards of Mr. O’Connor’s former clients. In selecting the C-17, C-130J and CH-147 aircraft the Government of Canada made its choices based upon urgent military operational requirements. Ruxted wishes such considerations were given priority much, much more often.

Ruxted agrees that parliamentary oversight of government spending in general, including defence spending, is less than adequate. A separate parliamentary committee is a good idea. Based on the recent, 2000 and beyond, performance of committees it might be preferable to put that committee in the Senate of Canada where matters of nation security and defence seem to be taken more seriously than in highly-charged partisan atmosphere of the House of Commons.

Now, the bad news. Mr. Staples’ other two recommendations are arrant nonsense:

• “ No new contract for a Major Crown Project (valued at over $100 million) for the Department of National Defence should be signed until Parliament is presented with both the audit of defence procurement currently being undertaken by the Auditor General, and the final report from the Commons Standing Committee on National Defence on its study of “Procurement and Associated Processes.” and

• “Cabinet ministers of federal departments involved in defence procurement, especially the Minister of National Defence, should have a clear, long-term separation from firms involved in the defence industry … public servants who review contract bids in federal departments involved in defence procurement should have a similarly clear, longterm separation from firms involved in the defence industry.”

The first of these ridiculous ‘recommendations’ reflects Mr. Staples real agenda, as we see it: he and the Rideau Institute want to disarm Canada and force us off the world stage, returning us to Pierre Trudeau’s timorous anti-Americanism. This position is rubbish. Canada is, as , Ruxted has explained before one of the world’s most favoured nations. We pushed the UN hard to make ‘Responsibility to Protect’ part of its mandate. Mr. Staples wants to ignore our good fortune; he wants us to keep our good fortune here, at home – presumably to be spent on people and projects close to his heart; he wants none of this ‘responsibility’ nonsense; he believes the US should help and protect and Canada should stand aside. That may have been Pierre Trudeau’s Canada, weak, poor, and isolationist but Ruxted contends that most Canadians want to be better and do better. Mr. Staples wants to stop the clock on restoring our armed forces to the status of a useful ‘tool’ for protecting and promoting Canada’s vital interests in the world. Shame on him, and shame on the CCPA for publishing such drivel !

Much of Mr. Staples ‘analysis’ is nothing more than a baseless attack on Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor’s ‘second career’ as a lobbyist. That Mr. O’Connor was a lobbyist is not at issue. There are about as many lobbyists in Ottawa as there are ’institutes’ – all trying to do the same thing: influence policies and outcomes. Mr. O’Connor’s former employer, Hill and Knowlton says that it aims to “to grasp the challenges and opportunities our clients face each day and develop strategies and programs as unique and creative as [Canada]itself.” The Rideau Institute says that it’s ‘’ arm has “launched The New Peace Lobby, a campaign to push for peace policies in Parliament through on-the-Hill lobbying, on-line activism, on-air media work, and on-the-ground organizing.” The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that it “offers analysis and policy ideas to the media, general public, social justice and labour organizations, academia and government.” How, Ruxted wonders, are Mr. Staples and the CCPA different from lobbyists? The bulk of Mr. Staples report sounds a lot like pots calling kettles black.

We hasten to add that we, Ruxted, also want to change opinion and policy – we are little different from CCPA and the Rideau Institute except, perhaps, for the facts that we are 100% self funded – we serve no ‘interests’ but our own. We also try to analyze real factors and make logical deductions before we arrive at conclusions.

The recommendation for a five year “cooling off” period is pulled out of thin air. Why? Presumably because Mr. O’Connor’s cooling off period was only two years. Does that matter? Mr. O’Connor, like most retired senior officers, was hired as a lobbyist for two reasons: he had a high level “insider’s” knowledge of the defence procurements process and he had contacts. Both are rather like new car depreciation: they begin to lose their value the day after the lobbyist is hired. Processes change – sometimes rapidly but, in any event, constantly; people change – former colleagues retire or are posted out, new people are less ‘friendly.’ That’s why most of the retired senior officer lobbyists have short careers. By the time he became Minister of National Defence Mr. O’Connor was, probably, getting close to his “best before” date. Despite the best mud slinging efforts of the Liberals and Mr. Staples no one in Ottawa believes that Mr. O’Connor has tried to or would be able to direct contracts to former clients. If he had tried, then he failed miserably in directing purchases towards his old client, Airbus Industries. Perhaps, in Mr. Staples' twisted logic, failure is success, or is it, success is failure? The defence procurement system is, in Ruxted’s view, broken but little in the CCPA’s report deals with its real, repairable flaws. The bulk of the first seven (of 14) pages of Mr. Staples report is groundless mud slinging – it deserves the trash heap to which it will be consigned.

The CCPA’s report is consistent in one thing: it gets to its ‘answers’ without obvious logic. Good or bad (and we think there are two of each), the recommendations need to flow from some factual analysis. Mr. Staples trots out lots and lots of tables and data but they do not lead us anywhere. In military terms he situated his appreciation – his conclusions were established before he started and he then tried to fill a dozen pages with some analysis of factors which might lead him to those deductions. He failed. His report is rubbish.

Given that two of its recommendations actually make some sense it is a pity that Steven Staples laboured mightily and brought forth nonsense. The Ruxted Group looks forward seeing some good use put to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ report: after, that is, all the copies have been recycled.


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