New federal procurement agency not in the cards

There are no plans to set up a single defence procurement agency, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.
The government says there are no plans to create a new agency to handle military procurement, a responsibility that falls to Associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

There are no plans to set up a single defence procurement agency, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

A media report the day before said an independent analysis done for the Department of National Defence agreed with an industry recommendation to centralize military purchases, for which the government has earmarked $240 billion.

Asked whether the government plans to open a new agency to handle procurement, a spokeswoman for Harper said it would be unnecessary.

"There are no plans to create another bureaucracy or more red tape in Ottawa," Sara MacIntyre said. "I think the question is answered by the fact that Julian Fantino has specific responsibility for military procurement."

"Obviously, he's improving the way the government purchases military equipment."

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn said Monday that opposition MPs need to give Fantino time to get into his job as the associate minister of national defence.

The role has existed under other governments, but it's a first under Harper.

Hawn, who used to be Defence Minister Peter MacKay's parliamentary secretary, said Fantino can pull together the three departments that share responsibility for defence spending: National Defence, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and Industry Canada.

"His area's going to be to concentrate on procurement. How that unfolds as the whole program develops remains to be seen, but we are committed to getting it right," Hawn told host Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power & Politics.

"Just sit back a little bit and let this unfold, see how Julian Fantino's job unfolds," he said.

Defence procurement has been criticized by the auditor general for a lack of accountability and transparency in the way billions of dollars are spent. In a report last year, former auditor general Sheila Fraser said civil servants weren't providing accurate or timely information to political bosses on two separate helicopter purchases.

The Ottawa Citizen reported Monday that a National Defence analysis of a defence industry recommendation supported the idea of creating a single agency to handle major purchases for the military. The analysis was based on a report by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris says giving the file to a single body may not be the solution.

"If we're going to start saying it's going to be one agency, well that better be one hell of an agency," he said. "There's got to be one powerful minister in charge of this to ensure some one person is accountable to the people of Canada."

The idea of a new agency seems to fly in the face of an expected era of austerity as the government tries to balance its budget. The Conservative government is banking on shrinking the civil service as it tries to cut billions from the federal budget.

A spokesman for Fantino said the government wants to keep improving the way it buys military equipment.