MPs doubt department claim of no documents on $2.2B aircraft purchase

Records were to be turned over to Parliament by July 22, but Public Services and Procurement Canada has responded that it has no records on any of those issues.

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The federal government’s procurement department has told parliamentarians it doesn’t have a single document concerning efforts to fix problems dogging a $2.2-billion search-and-rescue aircraft purchase.

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But some MPs on the House of Commons government operations committee aren’t buying such a claim considering the problems have caused a four-year delay in the project. They are vowing to dig deeper into how and why Public Services and Procurement Canada took a hands-off approach to numerous issues affecting such a critical purchase.

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The Canadian government announced in December 2016 that it was purchasing 16 C-295 aircraft for fixed-wing search and rescue as part of the $2.2-billion project. The fleet was to start operating in mid-2021.

But the purchase has been hit by what defence insiders say are significant problems and the first planes won’t be operating until 2025 or 2026. The full operational capability of the search-and-rescue fleet has been delayed for six years. It will take until 2030 before the aircraft that were to provide search and rescue on the west coast are fully doing their jobs, the federal government acknowledges.

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That prompted the government operations committee to request from Public Services and Procurement Canada information any records related to any fixes of technical and mechanical issues that have plagued the aircraft. The committee sought briefing notes, procurement schedules, deadlines for completing work and other related records.

The records were to be turned over to Parliament by July 22, but PSPC has responded to the committee that it has no records on any of those issues.

“There are no documents outlining ‘additional costs, briefing notes, procurement schedules and deadlines for completing the work to make the (the aircraft) operational,” stated the response sent by Lorenzo Ieraci, PSPC assistant deputy minister for policy, planning and communications.

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In addition, PSPC suggested the committee direct questions about technical capabilities and other issues to the Department of National Defence.

Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, a member of the government operations committee, says he doesn’t believe PSPC’s claim there are no records. “This procurement has turned into a fricking nightmare, so it defies logic that there are no emails, no notes of any kind. It’s impossible there is not a single document on this at PSPC.”

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus accused the federal government of trying to hide details about C-295 problems.

McCauley noted that, as the main organization purchasing military equipment for National Defence, PSPC would have been closely involved in the acquisition and would have monitored problems now affecting the project.

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National Defence officials, who work with PSPC on military procurements, privately say it is highly unusual that PSPC would claim not to have records. At the very least there would be briefing notes for the minister and deputy minister about the delay and other problems affecting the purchase of the C-295 search-and-rescue aircraft, they added.

McCauley said MPs would have to start digging into what was really happening with the program and the more than $2 billion being spent by taxpayers.

Earlier this year, National Defence acknowledged to this newspaper there were technical concerns regarding a centre-of-gravity issue due to the cabin configuration of the CC-295, commonly referred to as C-295, as well as problems involving search-and-rescue technicians parachuting from the plane’s back ramp.

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In addition, there are problems with the cockpit equipment that provides the crew with information on the status of the plane and its various systems. “There are software deficiencies in this system that have been identified and must be corrected through software updates,” National Defence spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier recently noted. “Software development takes time and follows a rigorous testing and certification process which cannot be circumvented.”

A number of issues affecting the planes are linked to modifications made to the fixed wing search-and-rescue (FWSAR) planes for specific Canadian requirements.

Airbus, the firm building the planes, has noted it is fully committed to improving the situation affecting the aircraft. It previously told The Canadian Press that work was underway to ensure as little impact as possible on Canada’s search-and-rescue services.

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The new C-295s were supposed to be based at Comox, B.C., to provide search and rescue capabilities for the west coast. But the four-year delay in the project has forced the Royal Canadian Air Force to re-position other aircraft to the west coast for those duties.

Last year, National Defence boasted to Parliament that military equipment procurement was not only well managed but also that all programs were within budget and on schedule.

In June, Defence Minister Anita Anand pushed back against what she said was a “narrative” that the military procurement process was plagued with problems, claiming there were numerous success stories.

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