DEFENCE WATCH BOOK REVIEW
By David Pugliese
The Politics of Procurement: Military Acquisition in Canada and the Sea King Helicopter
By Aaron Plamondon
Publisher: UBC Press
With black and white photos
In The Politics of Procurement, University of Calgary military historian Aaron Plamondon skillfully lays out the multi-decade saga of the Defence Department’s quest to replace the air force’s aging Sea King helicopters.
Plamondon argues that the procurement of military weapons and equipment in Canada has often been controlled by partisan political considerations and not by a clear desire to increase the capability of the Canadian Forces. As a result, he maintains that Canada has often failed to be effective in the design, production, or even the purchase, of weapons and equipment.
Plamondon touches on some early Canadian military equipment procurements to prove his point but his prime example to argue his case is the Sea King helicopter procurement.
It is probably the most famous or (infamous) military procurement of recent time. The EH-101 was originally selected in the early 1990s to replace the Sea Kings but that contract was cancelled by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien when he came to power in 1993. Chrétien had made the EH-101 an election issue and he cited the helicopter as an example of how the Conservative government was poorly using taxpayer’s dollars. His government paid $478 million in cancellation fees to scuttle the deal.
The military had to restart the process to buy a Sea King replacement, with the project divided into two elements, the acquisition of a search and rescue helicopter and the eventual purchase of a maritime helicopter.
In 1998 the winning search and rescue aircraft was selected but much to the embarrassment of the Chrétien government, the Canadian Forces had selected the EH-101 variant, the Cormorant.
After that there were more delays on the purchase of the maritime helicopter, allegations of political meddling and legal battles.
Plamondon’s coverage follows the early days of the Sea King replacement program to Chrétien’s cancellation of the EH-101 and on to the purchase of the Cormorant. The book also takes the reader into the current controversial and much delayed Cyclone maritime helicopter project.
The strength of the book is that it ties together the story of the helicopter procurement over many years. Plamondon uses DND documents obtained through the Access to Information process, records from the National Archives and DND’s history branch, interviews with former procurement officials as well as news articles from over the years about the EH-101 and Cyclone acquisitions (including some of this writer’s articles – ones I had forgotten I had penned since the Sea King replacement stretches back more than two decades).
The book is a very good read for anyone interested in Canadian defence policy and a must read for those studying procurement issues.
One suggestion, however, for readers. Unless you are independently wealthy I would take a pass on hardcover version of this book which costs $85. Instead try to get the more reasonably priced softcover version at $32.95. UBC Press says the publication date for the paperback is July.