As Canada’s special forces prepares to increase in size, a planned move of its counterterrorism unit from Ottawa to a larger base has been stalled.
The cost to move Joint Task Force 2 to a new installation at CFB Trenton has tripled to more than $1 billion.
The Department of National Defence says it is now going back to the Liberal government for a decision on how it wants to proceed.
JTF2 had planned to leave its Dwyer Hill facility in Ottawa after 2019 for a new installation at CFB Trenton. The previous Conservative government had authorized $346 million for construction of the new JTF2 site and the move of the unit.
But the special forces command has significantly added capabilities to the proposed site, expanding it beyond its original scope. That has driven costs up to about $1.2 billion.
The Liberal government recently announced it was boosting the size of Canada’s special forces by 605 personnel, although it’s unclear how many of those would be for JTF2.
Still, the military has been warning for years that the counterterrorism unit has outgrown its Dwyer Hill installation.
Last year, the Department of National Defence told the Ottawa Citizen it would have a decision on the move by this summer. But it now acknowledges there are no clear timelines for the project, if it happens at all.
“Due to the complexity of the project, the scope continues to be developed to meet minimum operational requirements,” the DND stated in an email. “The Department will seek further direction from the government on the implementation plan as the project progresses.”
Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said the request for direction has not yet arrived from the military.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance has been warned the project is facing major risk in “cost and scope,” according to documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through the Access to Information law.
The military has been talking about the need for a new base for JTF2 since 2005. Among the options considered was an expansion of the existing Ottawa site or moving the unit to Garrison Petawawa.
In 2008, the Conservative government announced JTF2 would be relocated to CFB Trenton, but in 2014, DND officials said the unit would remain at its Ottawa location at least until 2019.
In a controversial move, the Conservative government in 2012 expropriated a 90-hectare farm, near the Trenton base. The farm’s owner, Frank Meyers, made an unsuccessful bid to have the expropriation stopped. The farm had been in his family for more than 200 years.
The military took over the property, tore down barns, and built a berm and some access roads. Little else has been done with the land.
Due to the complexity of the project, the scope continues to be developed to meet minimum operational requirements
Meyers’ supporters have asked the Liberal government to return the property, but it has declined to do so.
There are currently around 1,900 personnel in Canadian special forces. That will be increased to 2,500, but the Liberal government has not detailed the time frame in which this will take place.
The Liberals have also pledged to spend $1.5 billion on new equipment for the special forces. That gear will include new vehicles, surveillance aircraft and boats.
Canadian Special Operations Forces Command or CANSOFCOM oversees Joint Task Force 2, in Ottawa; the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, both in Petawawa; and the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit, a Trenton, Ont.-based organization that deals with weapons of mass destruction.
The Liberal government defence plan also calls for new infrastructure for the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit, which will see additional personnel added to its ranks. Some existing buildings will be remodelled while other new facilities will be constructed at Trenton.
If JTF2 vacates its Dwyer Hill installation, the site will be offered up within DND and then to other federal departments. After that it could be offered to provincial and municipal governments. “If there is no interest at these levels, the property will be sold on the open market through an open and fair process,” a DND spokeswoman has said.