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Liberals' new pro-Canada procurement caveat still being figured out

The Liberal government has a new rule book for judging procurement competitions — it's just not sure how it will read yet.

Government bidders will be evaluated in part on their 'overall impact on Canada's economic interests'

Carla Qualtrough, minister of public services and procurement, announces Canada's plan to procure a new generation of fighter jets in Ottawa this week. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government has a new rule book for judging procurement competitions — it's just not sure how it will read yet.

While launching its long-awaited fighter jet competition on Tuesday, the Liberal government also revealed its intention to evaluate all future defence purchases in part through the lens of whether individual companies have helped or hurt the overall Canadian economy.

That was a clear nod to the government's public spat with Boeing, maker of the Super Hornet. Boeing has been in the government's bad books since it launched a trade complaint against Bombardier to impose punishing tariffs on the Montreal-based aerospace giant's C Series aircraft.

Carla Qualtrough, minister of public services and procurement, said the government is still hammering out what the criteria for the new requirement will be and how heavily it will be weighed when deciding who ultimately will make Canada's next fleet of fighter jets.

"We're going to work over the next year to really flesh that out with industry, with suppliers, with experts," she told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"We haven't come down to the technical details."

Already, analysts have flagged potential political trade, legal and even military consequences.

Dave Perry, an analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who follows the procurement file, said lawyers could have a field day with that.

"When you get down to the nuts and bolts, the government is going to draw up with a 'naughty and nice' list for whether company A or B is helping or hurting the Canadian economy," he said.

'Elements of subjectivity'

Perry said unless the government comes up with some "mathematical formula based on market evidence," the policy would inject a "degree of subjectivity" into contracts that companies can contest either in court or before international trade tribunals.

"Oh, this has elements of subjectivity for sure, and we can't avoid that," said Qualtrough.

The self-described "minister of process" said the government will likely write the criteria between finalizing the supplier list and formalizing the request for proposals.

And Qualtrough said the government has consulted its lawyers.

"We of course wouldn't be announcing a policy direction if we didn't think it was legally prudent to take this direction," she said.

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