A parliamentary committee on national defence is calling on the federal government to open up the competition for new military surveillance aircraft instead of doing a sole-source contract with U.S. giant Boeing Co.
The committee passed a motion Thursday saying the government “must proceed by way of a formal request for proposals before awarding any procurement contract” for the new airplanes.
“Ultimately, we want to get to a proper competition, follow the rules that the government has in place and ensure that we get the right plane selected for our Canadian armed forces.” said James Bezan, a Conservative Party MP who’s part of the standing committee on national defence. “We’re concerned from our side [whether] the government has been transparent on this.”
Bombardier Inc. BBD-B-T and several other Canadian manufacturers have been pushing for an open competition to supply the government’s Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft project, which aims to find a replacement for the military’s CP-140 Aurora planes.
The contract, estimated to be worth $6-billion to $10-billion, is one of the largest military procurements in years. Boeing has told Canada that it could stop building its plane in 2025 if orders aren’t placed.
Pressure is increasing on the government to hold an open competition. The premiers of Ontario and Quebec this week repeated their call for an open request for proposals. Federal government officials have insisted that no final decision has been taken.
Ottawa is set to award the contract to Boeing BA-N based on “highly flawed and invalid information,” Bombardier chief executive Éric Martel told The Globe and Mail in a recent interview. The move is short-sighted and will hurt the country as Bombardier and other domestic players try to build out their defence potential in the years ahead, he said.
Mr. Martel said Ottawa appears to have made up its mind to purchase Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance jets from the Virginia-based plane maker. He said his team understands that the government intends to invoke a national-security exception in its decision to speed up the transaction and minimize exposing itself to legal challenges.
“I think we were misled,” Mr. Martel told The Globe of the government’s procurement process. “Other countries are knocking on our door today because they see ours as the product of the future, which is a bit mind-boggling considering that in our own country right now we’re not even being considered.”
In March, Public Services and Procurement Canada said it sent a request through the U.S. foreign military sales program to explore the viability of buying 16 Boeing P-8A jets. Analysts said it’s further proof that Boeing is on a short track for the contract.
Senior officials with the departments of National Defence, Public Services and Procurement, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada appeared before a separate commons committee recently to answer questions about a possible Boeing P-8 purchase.
Simon Page, an assistant deputy minister in charge of defence and marine procurement, said that based on the findings of an independent consultancy, the project team concluded that it would be “very challenging” for Canadian industry to develop and deliver a plane in a time frame that dovetails with the life expectancy of the CP-140 planes currently in use.
Montreal-based Bombardier has teamed up with rival General Dynamics Corp., one of the world’s biggest defence contractors, on a surveillance aircraft with submarine hunting capability they say would fit the military’s needs.
Bombardier is supplying the jet, a modified version of its Global 6500 model, while General Dynamics contributes much of the “mission systems,” including sonar equipment and satellite communications.