By Scott Taylor
This year marked the sixth annual Best Defence Conference held in London, Ontario. The intent of these two-day events is to bring together high-tech defence industries, government officials and military personnel for the purpose of highlighting the multitude of defence-related industry capabilities that exist in Southern Ontario.
Originally organized by the London Economic Development Corporation, the format has grown and morphed over the years, but it has always been under the direction and guidance of the dynamic Heather Pilot. Last year Pilot decided to fly Best Defence solo under the banner of her own company, Pilot Hill Ltd.
What was initially an informal networking opportunity, Best Defence has matured into a full-fledged mini trade show. This year the number and scope of exhibitors grew yet again and the floor format was better optimized to keep all activities, speeches and B2B meetings in the same hall. In past years, some exhibitors were relegated to the outside hallway and perhaps remained unseen by a percentage of attendees.
The networking remains a priority at Best Defence as this year’s program had three separate receptions plus a breakfast and lunch. On November 1, the first day of the two-day conference, Women in Defence and Security (WiDS) hosted the opening reception, which was followed that afternoon by a number of presentations. The main panel discussion was moderated by Stan Jacobson of Canadian Commercial Corporation and was entitled “Canadian Companies Doing Business with the U.S. DoD — The Risks and Rewards.”
The official kickoff reception took place that evening at 1800 hours and featured the ubiquitous David Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, as the keynote speaker. By 2030 hours the reception had concluded but the mingling continued as many of the Best Defence’s 300-plus attendees spilled out into local London restaurants and watering holes.
The next day saw an early start with breakfast being served at 0700 hours. The first speaker was Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) President and CEO Christyn Cianfarani. While Best Defence is an independent event, CADSI is officially a supporter.
The highlight of the morning presentations was the mini-outlooks provided by DND. Delivered by Colonel Nicolas Pilon, Colonel Steve Chouinard, and Captain(N) Jason Armstrong, they gave future insight into the procurement needs of the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy, respectively.
The morning lineup concluded with what was called Technology Showcase Pitches. This segment allowed 11 separate companies a four-minute window in which to inform the audience as to what sets their products and innovations apart from the rest. Not exactly speed dating, but it was certainly informative and educational.
The highest-profile speaker of the show was Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Andrew Leslie, the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. There were plenty of old comrades present for Leslie to acknowledge in his address, not least of whom was LGen (ret’d) Peter Devlin, his successor as Canadian Army commander. Following his retirement from the CAF, Devlin was hired as the President of Fanshaw College, which includes the new Canadian Centre for Product Validation (CCPV). This 25,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility is one of the crown jewels in London’s defence-related industrial sector.
Things wound down around 1530 hours, and for those not grabbing a plane or train out of London, there was yet another networking reception to close things down.
Heather Pilot and her team are to be commended for once again living up to a challenging name. Best Defence just keeps getting better.