Environment Canada to get $83M in new and upgraded weather radar systems

The federal government has quietly awarded an $83-million contract to outfit Environment Canada with a new national network of weather radar systems.

Critics wonder why contract was awarded without public announcement in Canada

An Environment Canada weather radar image shows heavy bands of rain moving toward southeastern New Brunswick and P.E.I. last month. New radar systems will provide more accurate information. (Jim Abraham/Environment Canada)

The federal government has quietly awarded an $83-million contract to outfit Environment Canada with a new national network of weather radar systems.

The contract was awarded by Public Works and Government Services in June of this year without an accompanying public announcement. Documents seeking input from industry before the contract was awarded say Environment Canada is embarking on a multi-year project to rejuvenate its network of meteorological radar.

"The requirement is to replace approximately 20 of the existing weather radar network and related infrastructure by the spring of 2023," the documents say.

The letter explains that Canada has a network of 31 radar systems across the country, one-third of which can be upgraded, but the other two-thirds have to be replaced.

CBC News earlier reported that IBM Canada won a $430,421,404 contract on May, 27, 2016, which has also not been announced to the public.

According to the documents, the federal government's information technology agency, Shared Services Canada, is leasing the supercomputer, as well as the global storage cloud, high-speed storage networks, processors and software, over 8½ years with an option to renew the contract for another 2½ years.

Both projects are aimed at improving Environment Canada's ability to forecast the weather, a seemingly positive investment that has some scratching their heads as to why the contracts were not announced with fanfare in the first place.

"Typically governments are keen to take credit for major public investments, so one wonders why this government has kept those investments under wraps," said NDP MP Erin Weir, his party's critic on public services and procurement.

"I remain open to the possibility that they were good investments, but I think the government needs to come forward and explain to Canadians why it made these investments, why it chose the products it bought and why these deals make sense for the country."

In the shadow of Phoenix

Debbi Daviau, president of the union that represents many government scientists, points out the contract for the supercomputer was awarded around the same time the Liberals were struggling to explain the roll-out of its beleaguered new payroll system, Phoenix, also supplied by IBM

"Now I see why the big secret. It's obviously because the contract was awarded to IBM in May when both waves of Phoenix had taken place, and at that point there was close to the 80,000 backlog" of public servants who were not being paid properly.

Leonardo-Finmeccanica, through its German subsidiary Selex ES GmbH, was awarded the contract for radar systems.

Documents say the contract will be to replace 20 radar systems, with the option to supply, deliver and install an additional 13 radar systems, as well as provide training and project management systems.

A statement posted on the company's website says it will supply, deliver and install weather radar systems that will supply information not just to the Canadian Meteorological Centre, but to air traffic control authorities, farmers and other Canadians who can use the information.

Improved weather forecasting

While the government did not give details about the deal, a source familiar with the new radar technology says it will mean far more precise forecasts. 

For example, the current radar system can only tell scientists if there's precipitation, but not what kind. The new system will tell them if it's rain, snow or hail.

At present, two weather radar stations in the current system that are tracking the same storm may deliver different results. One may say the storm is severe and the other that it is mild. The new system is supposed to clear up that issue. 

"An updated radar infrastructure will help meteorologists issue more precise and timely severe weather warnings to Canadians across the country," said Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson.