CANSEC, the country’s largest defence and security trade show, gets underway today at the EY Centre. It brings together some of the world’s largest military contractors, as well as government and diplomatic officials.
Ahead of the two-day exhibition, OBJ spoke with Christyn Cianfarani, president of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, to discuss the defence industry landscape in Ottawa and beyond.
OBJ: Last year, you were calling for a revamped defence procurement strategy from the federal government to help make Canada a world leader in innovation. What are your thoughts on the progress that has been made, if any, on this front since then?
Christyn Cianfarani: We think the Government of Canada’s Defence Procurement Strategy was a good first step in making some necessary improvements, particularly in leveraging defence procurement using tools like the Value Proposition in large recently awarded and upcoming procurements, but more needs to be done. We are hopeful that the Defence Policy Review that will be released shortly links defence spending and innovation together more cohesively through a Made in Canada defence industrial strategy and additional innovation programming.
OBJ: The new federal budget did little to boost defence spending and actually put off billions in equipment spending for more than a decade. What potential impact will these delays have on the industry, particularly in Ottawa?
CC: The constant shifts, whether re-profiling or lapsing funding, is harmful for the Canadian Armed Forces, industry and the government. It adversely affects industry’s ability to plan and make investment and partnering decisions related to procurements; it makes Canada a riskier market than it needs to be. We believe this seemingly chronic underspending is related to the procurement process and we are committed to working with the government to find practical ways to fix what appears to be systemic problems.
OBJ: What's your overall assessment of how the Industrial and Technological Benefits program is working so far, particularly in terms of driving jobs and innovation?
CC: The Industrial and Technological Benefits program is one of the more powerful tools the government has available to incent business leaders to drive innovation in the defence industry. We are hearing from members that in recent contract awards, the amount of innovation and Canadian content – jobs in Canada – has increased from previous versions of submitted bids.”
OBJ: You've said in the past Ottawa (the city and its companies as opposed to the federal government) can play a key role in driving innovation in the defence sector. Where does Ottawa stand right now? Is it doing as well it could in this regard and how can it improve its performance?
CC: To start there are over 300 defence and security related companies in the Ottawa area. In addition, Invest Ottawa, City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario have been active in promoting Ottawa as an innovation-centric community and it has been great to see the realization of the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards. One of the biggest challenges facing the Ottawa business innovation community will be what strategic position to take with its innovation centre and those concepts within the digital sector strategy for super cluster development that ISED is rolling out.
OBJ: Are there any areas in particular where Ottawa is really driving innovation and growth in the defence sector? Are there any local success stories that really stand out to you?
CC: Visiting madeacrosscanada.ca you will find many success stories from the defence and security industries in Canada including Ottawa’s very own MMIST, WR Davis Engineering, Thales Canada, and Gastops. Ottawa also has a very vibrant cyber community out in the Kanata-west area. Given the increased emphasis being put on cyber on a daily basis, we think this is something to keep a watch on for growth potential.
OBJ: You also mentioned last year that Canada should take a good look at Australia as a good comparison point for a defence industrial policy. What does that country do well that you feel Canada can learn from?
CC: The Australians recently unveiled a new, formal defence industrial policy that recognises the defence industry as a fundamental input to the capability of the Australian Defence Force. They are now aiming to develop a new Defence Industrial Capabilities Plan that identifies sovereign industrial capabilities that should be maintained and supported by the Australian government for both economic and national security reasons. We can learn from these points when developing our own strategy.