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Top military purchases official to leave as Tories prep for 2015 election

OTTAWA - A seasoned public servant who helped reshape the Harper government's tattered military procurement strategy has announced his retirement at Public Works.

An internal memo — circulated Monday — announced Tom Ring's departure as of the end of the year, and the federal government posted his job Wednesday online.

It is just the latest in a series of backroom changes this summer among the ranks of the senior bureaucracy, the most high-profile being the departure of Wayne Wouters as clerk of the Privy Council and the naming of his replacement, Janice Charette.

Ring is leaving one of the most politically troublesome files just months before the Conservatives head back to the polls — in either the spring or the fall of 2015 — to defend their record.

As assistant deputy minister for acquisitions for the last few years, Ring played a key role in the implementation of the government's national shipbuilding strategy and was a principal architect of the recently announced defence procurement strategy.

Both policies won the government praise, but there is rising concern about the slow pace of the actual ship construction contracts.

Ring was also called upon to defend Public Works' handling of the F-35 jetfighter purchase, which was put on hold by the Conservatives as they looked at alternatives.

Ring, who also spent years at National Defence, was not available for comment Wednesday, but word of his exit rippled through the defence industry, which is keen to see the Conservative government stick to its plans after years of confusion and cancelled projects.

Mike Greenley, who's on the board of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, said Ring was instrumental in moving a number of files forward, including the style of procurement that's seen the government consult more closely with defence contractors before putting a project out for tender.

Greenley said he wants to see that continue and hopes the government takes its time to put the right person in place to fill the important leadership position.

"Decisiveness is important for our industry and making sure that the procurement files move forward," Greenley said. "We need to maintain speed on these procurements."

Phil Lagasse, a defence expert at the University of Ottawa, said military procurement, despite high-profile controversies, has been made more open and transparent under Ring's watch.

"Transparency was one of things that plagued F-35 and the third-party reviews increase confidence in the process," said Lagasse, who served on the independent panel that reviewed the air force's plans to replace the CF-18s.

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