Stephen Harper’s hoped-for new fighter jets are getting him in hot water yet again.
The Harper Government’s failure to disclose the true cost of new F-35 fighter jets to be purchased under the Joint Strike Fighter program was, in part, one of the reasons they were found in Contempt of Parliament in March of 2011, and one of the reasons a Canadian election was forced in May 2011 – with disastrous results for the opposition.
And yet today, the Harper government is pleading ignorance as the mess ignites further with a report from the Office of the Auditor General office that slams the entire procurement process for the F-35s from top to bottom. Michael Ferguson’s report states that the process to replace Canada’s aging fleet of F18 fighter jets with the new superpowerful F35s was riddled with secrecy, lack of oversight, lack of procedure and sandbagged estimates. Lowlights of the report include:
- The Canadian Military decided that the F-35s were the fighter jets of choice as far back as 2006, and thereafter appeared to direct the procurement process towards their preferred fighters instead of doing a thorough review of all options.
- Once DND decided to purchase the jets, they pretended to go through proper procurement channels but actually skirted the open bidding process required by law.
- DND internal documents showed the price of the jets estimated to be $25 billion – but when asked to provide documentation to Parliament, told them the jets would cost approximately $14 billion. (When Parliament was confronted with a more accurate estimate, the junior Defence minister at the time dismissed the numbers as “speculative and illogical”.)
- Even the $25 billion number is probably too low – and if the project runs in to cost overruns, as is expected, DND will need to request more money from the government to cover the jets.
- The Harper government has long defended the cost of the project in part by saying that the purchase will mean billions of dollars in industrial benefits for Canadian companies – but that assumption was never validated, and estimates of the actual economic benefit range wildly.
- Briefing materials for ministers did not explain the “full range” of estimates of costs of the jets but rather only the best case scenarios.
The Harper government has responded with a resounding “It wasn’t us! it was the civil servants!” and has wholeheartedly thrown the Military and Public Service under the bus – yet it was their job to ask questions, especially in the face of forceful opposition and public criticism over the purchase. Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair summed it up, asking “How could [Prime Minister Harper] allow Parliament to be intentionally misled on the F-35s? Either he knew and it’s unconscionable or he didn’t, and it’s incompetence.” The Harper government is taking several “actions” in the face of the report, including saying the deal isn’t “done” and putting a new team of bureaucrats in charge instead of the old team.
Pulling out of the deal would leave the already beleaguered Joint Strike Fighter project in limbo, and would leave Canada in a situation of still needing to find an appropriate solution to replace our aging fleet of F-18s. Yet the Harper Government and the already demoralized public service are not forthcoming with answers on any of this – and this from a government who pledged to “clean up Ottawa”. Clean, indeed.
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