Friday, September 7, 2012

Picking Your Comparisons

[Slightly revised version is cross -posted at CIC]

There is an excellent piece on the Canadian F-35 procurement politics process at with a really unfortunate headline on the website--about whether Canada was tricked by US into buying the plane.

The piece is very sharp about some contrasts in legislative oversight (although Canadians do not think their parliament does oversight over the military but accountability over the defence ministery--something that still confuses me).

I have one hesitation and then one major frustration. The hesitation is this: we still don't know what the Canadian government is going to do.  If Harper goes ahead with the purchse of 65 F-35's, then the meetings that the author of this piece had might seem more like Kabuki theatre than anything significant.  That is unfair, of course, but the point is that if we see the same policy over five years of politicking and controversy, it raises a few questions about how significant that stuff was, except for the election part (not a small piece of the process).

The major frustration: suggesting that Canada does defence procurement better than the US, comparing the respective legislatures, is kind of like asking which of the Stooges (of the Three Stooges) was most effective.  This is a basic Canadian pattern--compare ourselves to how lame the US does x, and then we can feel better about ourselves.  The most obvious tendency is in the realm of health care.  Yes, the American health care system is very unfair, but Canada shares the same basic problem: heaps of money spent with lackluster results.  The difference?  The US health care system provides excellent care to those who can pay, those who are insured.  The Canadian system works best for those who have the best networking skilz and contacts so they can work a very stressed system.  So, the Canadian system is mostly semi-mediocre across the board.  The reality is that both countries need to stop looking at each other, and smugly thing that theirs is better than the other (our waits are shorter, our rationing is fairer) and look elsewhere, such as parts of Europe that have managed cost escalation better and delivery better.

Getting back to procurement, this story suggests that the NDP did its homework, but the outcomes thus far indicate that Canadian military procurement is just as messed up as the American process.  The US pays way too much for its stuff with heaps of cost overruns and very sketchy ties between Congress and defense contractors.  The Canadians pay a lot and seem to get back stuff that does not work.  The politics in both places directs people away from the hard choices, but as long as they look to only one basis of comparison, a messed up one, neither one will be able to figure out what to do better.  Instead, they can be smugly complacent. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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