Canada’s military procurement legacy somehow gets even stupider

A Glock 17 Gen 4 pistol, top, and a Browning pistol that is being replaced. The British Army needed 25,000 of them, and it got them in two years. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

If you’re feeling particularly lazy today, you can basically get the full benefit of this column by just finishing the next fragment of a sentence: the Canadian government is epically screwing up yet another military procurement and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for letting it happen.

Seriously. That’s it. If you’re slammed for time, you can move on. The rest of what’s about to follow is just maddening detail.

If you’re still here, you must be interested in our military and our constant, enduring, humiliating inability to properly equip it. There’s just one of these disgraces after another. Over the last decade, I’ve written about them, over and over. There’s our ongoing utter inability to replace our CF-18 fleet. There’s the Navy supply ship omnishambles. There’s the logistics trucks debacle. There’s half a dozen others. It’s bad.

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But pistols? Pistols?! This is pathetic. And we’re pathetic for tolerating it. Truly. After a decade, I’ve basically run out of more sophisticated arguments. We have a bad government but, hey, that’s OK, because we deserve it, and we will until we force the government to do better.

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Tristin Hopper, a National Post reporter, did the heavy lifting on this story. The Canadian military has been using Browning Hi-Power pistols as its primary sidearm since the Second World War. Canada built thousands of them during the war, more than we ended up needing, and we’ve been using them ever since. The Hi-Power was a fine pistol back in the 1940s, and a new, properly maintained one is still an effective firearm today (they only went out of production last year). But Canada’s literally date back 70-some-odd years. They’re beaten up, rusted out and failing.

This is a big gosh-darned problem. A pistol is a soldier’s weapon of last resort. A 9mm is a short-range, relatively low-power weapon. But it can be operated with one hand and in confined spaces. In other words, it’s what you use to defend yourself if everything else has failed and the enemy is right on top of you. Any time a Canadian soldier is reaching for a pistol it’s because that 9mm is the only remaining thing between them and eternity.

And they don’t [expletive deleted] work!
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PM Trudeau discusses ‘messy’ procurement process for Canada’s fighter jets

Hopper’s National Post piece, itself citing Canadian Army Today, recounts a recent pistol shooting tournament for allied militaries hosted by the United States Armed Forces. The Canadian Army team brought 20 pistols. Fifteen of them failed utterly and were withdrawn before the tournament even began. The entire Canadian contingent had to use the remaining five. And these are our best pistol marksmen — guys who know their weapons intimately and know how to take care of them. Even they couldn’t prevent a 75 per cent failure rate. The Canadian pistols jammed, on average, every 62 rounds. The British delegation, meanwhile, fired over 5,000 shots without a single jam.

The need to replace the pistols is obvious. We’ve been scrapping some, turning them into spare parts, for years already. The Canadian military thinks it needs perhaps as many as 25,000. That would be enough for everyone who needs them, plus a comfortable reserve cushion. And they think they can have them … in 2026. Ten years after the replacement process officially began.

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This is absolutely insane. A lot of military technology is highly specialized and specific. But pistol manufacturers are basically a dime-a-dozen. Police forces routinely buy pistols. The civilian market alone provides enough demand for pistols. The manufacturing capability exists. Today. If you have a licence, as I do, you can walk into a Canadian gun store and buy a pistol, for a reasonable price, that will almost certainly be in stock. And if not, there’s always more coming from the manufacturers.

There is no economic, military or industrial reason that the Canadian government needs until 2026 to buy these guns. There’s not really even a political reason — the cost of this procurement is relatively low, pocket change for even a small military like Canada’s. The only reason we can’t get this done almost right away is simply because the Canadian government absolutely sucks at procurement. We are just woefully and irredeemably inept.

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And I can prove it. It’s rare that two nations will ever be doing virtually an identical procurement, in virtually identical circumstances. But that’s actually happened here, allowing a direct comparison to be made. Five years ago, the British Armed Forces also realized they needed to replace their 9mm pistols (also Browning Hi-Powers, to boot). They also decided they needed 25,000 of them. And they went out and got them … in two years.

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That’s it. The entire process, from deciding “We should get new pistols” to “Here’s your new Glock, ole chap” was two years. Canada has scheduled a full decade for nearly identical program, and it will almost certainly run long. I say again: Canada plans on spending five times more time buying its next pistol than the British spent buying theirs.

It’s unnecessary. It’s inexcusable. It’s pathetic. And it’s entirely routine. Your tax dollars at work, folks. Are you feeling angry yet?

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News.

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