Canada Fast-Tracks 10.4 Billion Dollar Military Purchase

By Canadian standards, the 10.4 billion Canadian dollar military purchase announced this week moved at light speed, possibly within as little as nine months.

Traditionally when Canada goes shopping for major military items like aircraft, the process turns into a Wagnerian opera of epic length and complexity. Political grumbling surrounded this purchase of at least 14 Boeing maritime surveillance planes too, but it remained on a fast track, partly because the government was willing to endure some backlash to make it happen.

While there are many examples of Canada’s sluggish military procurement, the most dramatic was the recent fighter jet replacement program. In 2010, the Conservative government under Stephen Harper, the prime minister at the time, said that it would buy 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.

The deal was immediately opposed by the Liberals. Their opposition intensified after the auditor general concluded that the purchase was made without a “fair competition” and that the estimated cost of 9 billion Canadian dollars was a severe underestimate. The estimated program cost had soared to 45.8 billion Canadian dollars.

After he formed his first government in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau canceled the deal and started a new shopping program for fighter jets. Because of the added delay, the government also picked up some new F-18 jets from Boeing and 25 used ones from Australia to tide the Royal Canadian Air Force over.

After all of that, the end result was that Mr. Trudeau’s government reversed its previous opposition early this year and said that it would buy F-35s after all, 88 of them for a total program cost of 70 billion Canadian dollars.

The first F-35s could arrive as early as 2029, two decades after the Conservative announcement.

But this time Mr. Trudeau’s government accelerated the purchase.

Unless things take an unexpected turn, the first of the newly purchased Boeing P-8A planes — which are basically Boeing 737 airliners stuffed with various kinds of sensors, weapons, computers and workstations for analysts — will begin flying with the R.C.A.F. in 2026. The estimated program cost is 10.4 billion Canadian dollars, of which just under 6 billion dollars is the purchase price of the planes. (The program cost includes weapons, training simulators, spare parts and renovations at the Air Force bases in British Columbia and Nova Scotia where the planes will be stationed.)

As with the 1980s vintage CP-140 Aurora planes they will replace, the main duty of the newcomers will be tracking submarines. But, as is the case now, they will most likely perform a number of other tasks ranging from tracking drug smuggling in the Caribbean to monitoring pollution in Canada. The R.C.A.F. turned to its Auroras to help search for the doomed Titan submersible earlier this year.

And the Poseidon is not used by just the United States. Several other allies including Britain, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand already fly the plane, allowing, among other things, Canada to swap crew members and parts during joint exercises.

But even before the announcement was made, Premier François Legault of Quebec, Premier Doug Ford of Ontario, Yves-François Blanchet, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, and a parliamentary committee all criticized the government for not opening up the contract to bidding. In particular, they wanted it to consider a proposed marine surveillance plane from Montreal-based Bombardier.

Mr. Blanchet said the government was “rejecting” Quebec and Canada for a “flying dinosaur” from Boeing.

Bill Blair, the defense minister, said that the Poseidon was the only aircraft of its type actually in production and was the only option that guarantees the Auroras will be replaced as they reach the end of their in-service lives starting in 2030.

“The fact that it met all of the requirements that the Air Force defined for us really made this not only the right choice, but frankly the only choice,” he told reporters.

Not mentioned by Mr. Blair or the other cabinet ministers was Bombardier’s weak track record when it comes to timely development of new planes. A series of delays played a major role in the failure of its ambitious plan to take on Boeing and Airbus in the airliner market. Despite over $1 billion in government investments, Bombardier effectively turned over that airplane, originally known as the CSeries, to Airbus in exchange for nothing.

Philippe Lagassé, a professor at Carleton University who studies military procurement, said he found it a notable break from the past that the government decided to act quickly rather than go through a protracted bidding process.

Exactly when the government decided to go with just the Boeing plane is not clear. But in March it made a preliminary inquiry with the United States government about buying Poseidons. (Boeing is not allowed to sell the plane directly; the purchase is being made between the two governments.)

Professor Lagassé said that several factors most likely went into the government’s decision to go through a swift, sole-sourced contract. On top of the Poseidon’s availability, he said, there were also indications that Boeing might end production of the plane.

And, he said, the government clearly also decided that it could defend its decision even if it would disappoint or anger some people and groups.

“In the past, there might have been more caution and more hesitation, particularly around the political risk or risk around how the other companies might react,” he told me.


  • This week an indictment released in the United States charged that an Indian government official directed an unsuccessful murder plot against a Sikh separatist in New York and linked the plan to the killing of a Sikh nationalist in Surrey, British Columbia — an allegation raised months ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. My colleague Norimitsu Onishi writes that the American charges have shored up Mr. Trudeau’s allegations, which India vigorously denied.

  • Canada’s standoff with Google came to an end this week when the tech giant agreed to provide 100 million Canadian dollars a year in compensation to publishers in Canada for its use of their news material. But Meta, the parent company of Facebook, remains at odds with the government, Vjosa Isai reports.

  • A man who was a teenager when he killed one woman and seriously wounded another was sentenced as an adult this week after his conviction. For the first time in a case involving violence against women in Canada, the judge also declared the brutal attack to be an act of terrorism because the man used a sword inscribed with a sexist epithet and carried in his pocket a note promoting an ideology of violence against women.

  • Marty Krofft, who was born in Montreal and joined his brother in creating fantastical children’s television programs, including “H.R. Pufnstuf,” has died at the age of 86.

  • Two Canadian nutrition researchers discuss how our need for protein changes with age.

  • And Daniel Levitin, a professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University, talks about the reliability of Christmas music for self-soothing.


A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for two decades. Email austen@nytimes.com


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