The 11th-hour announcement scrapping the truck purchase left companies confused and exasperated, though none dared say so publicly Thursday for fear it would hurt their chances at a future procurement.
No one seems to know why Public Works waited until the last minute to cancel the contract.
"It was unexpected," one company official said. Others who spoke to The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity echoed that sentiment.
Companies had until 2 p.m. ET Wednesday to bid on a contract for 1,500 new medium-sized logistics trucks for the Canadian Forces.
But Public Works emailed bidders three minutes before the deadline to let them know the contract has been cancelled.
"Economic, marketplace and budgetary circumstances have changed since this solicitation process began," the email said.
"Therefore, the government of Canada needs to reassess this procurement to ensure that the right equipment is acquired for the army at the best value for Canada, prior to proceeding with a new solicitation."
The firms had already spent big money on their pitches, including the cost of shipping the vehicles to a test centre in Carson City, Nev.
Defence industry sources say it would not be unheard of for companies to spend upwards of $1 million on their bids.
"I think there was general surprise and considerable disappointment in the Crown cancelling the project," said Tim Page, president of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries.
"I think the industry would have been equally disappointed and equally surprised, given that the government has stated on many occasions in the past number of years the importance that it attaches to the re-equipping of these vehicles.
"So, I think the general mood within that section of our industrial base that was interested in this procurement was surprised and disappointed."
Publicly, companies were sounding an optimistic note Thursday.
"Navistar remains focused on supporting the Department of National Defence and the vehicles we currently have in operation with the Canadian Forces," Dan Webster, president of Navistar Defence Canada, said in a statement.
"We will continue to anticipate the mission needs and budget restraints of our allied armed forces to offer new and cost-effective solutions while we look forward to participating in future Canadian vehicle programs."
Former Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor first announced the program to great fanfare back in 2006.
"This government is committed to strengthening the Canadian Forces by ensuring that they finally have the equipment they need to get the job done," O'Connor said in a news release.
The release says the government planned to buy 1,500 logistics trucks and 800 commercial vehicles adapted for military use, along with the equipment to go with them, at a total cost of $1.2 billion.
The new Standard Military Pattern Vehicles were to replace the current fleet, which has been in use since the 1980s. The vehicles are reaching the end of their service life.
"The requirement for this equipment is urgent," the Defence Department said in 2006.
The medium-weight trucks are considered the workhorses of the regular and reserve forces, ferrying supplies to troops at home and abroad. But after more than two decades of service, extensive rust and brake problems are betraying the fleet's age.
The defence industry has long been frustrated with the many delays in issuing the truck contract.
Last November, after six companies and eight types of trucks had already been pre-qualified, Public Works told prospective suppliers it was restarting the process, citing "further refinements in the technical specification."
Public Works has not responded to questions about the cancelled contract.
In a statement released Wednesday night, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose reiterated that the decision to reassess the proposal was based on a desire to preserve taxpayer dollars.
"It is important to make sure that we will get the right equipment for our men and women in uniform at the right price for the Canadian taxpayer," Ambrose said.
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