Not a great day to be in the market for fighter jets, it seems, as the Federal government has hit another road block in its quest to buy new planes. A report issued today by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson said basically that the entire endeavour to this point has over-budget and less than transparent. The purchase of 65 fifth generation Joint Strike Fighters made to Lockheed Martin has been fraught with Parliamentarians getting misleading information which understated the problems the program was experiencing and provided artificially low cost estimates, according to Reuters.
"National Defence did not exercise due diligence in managing the process to replace the CF-18 jets," said Ferguson. "There were significant weaknesses in the decision-making process used by National Defence in acquiring the F-35 ... key decisions were made without required approvals or supporting documentation."
He also said that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper regularly used the overly upbeat reports from the military to dismiss opposition complaints about problems with the F-35. "The key question to the prime minister is: how could he allow Parliament to be intentionally misled on the F-35s? Either he knew, and it's unconscionable, or he didn't know, and it's incompetence. Which is it?" said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
The AG's report reinforces a lot of the criticism of the government's decision to buy the F-35s: their more expensive than advertised, and the government wasn't being completely honest about the details of the purchase. "Many of the steps and documents used to support the government's 2010 decision were of little consequence because the key questions of whether to procure the F-35 and whether to run a competition were effectively determined by decisions taken much earlier, calling onto question the integrity of the process," Ferguson said.
In 2008, the government said it would be spend $9.1 billion on the planes with an additional $16 billion over 20 years for maintenance. But Ferguson is suggesting that the cost is going to come out to much more than that, but Harper is saying that it's too soon to fly off the handle because there's no signed deal with Lockheed yet.
There have been signs before that the full-steam ahead train of the F-35 purchase was already derailed before today's report. Last week's budget announced three years worth of defence cuts, with the exception of the purchase of planes to replace the CF-18s, but the purchase of the F-35s wasn't specified. Harper's rather tacit response to the AG report, that nobody's signed on the dotted line yet, is almost an admission of defeat considering how hard this government will go when its under attack.
But even more stinging, perhaps even permanently so, is the part of the report that says the normal procurement procedures weren't followed, just so that the planes be acquired quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Once again, the government that preached transparency and decried the patronage and cronyism of previous administrations finds itself accused of not being totally upfront. And for them, like the Liberals, it might not get them today, but it may ultimately be one of a thousand cuts.
In other news, here's a press release from our MP Frank Valeriote about the matter:
OTTAWA – Guelph MP Frank Valeriote called on the Conservative government to finally take responsibility for its mistakes in the F-35 debacle, come clean on the true costs, technical and financial problems facing the sole-source purchase and not use the Department of National Defence officials as scapegoats for their arrogant refusal to admit the F35's shortcomings
“The Conservative government foolishly refused to back down from their untenable position on the sole-sourcing of a replacement jet for the CF-18,” said Valeriote. “For two years, my colleagues and I in the Liberal caucus have raised the red flag on this issue, and for two years the Conservative government has withheld vital information and misled Canadians on how their money would be spent.”
From day one, the Conservatives have misled Canadians on this process. They decided to sole-source the largest purchase in Canadian history, moving forward on the F-35 without a full complement of information. They were blatantly dishonest on the existence of a binding ‘contract,’ which the Prime Minister claimed existed during the 2011 General Election which the Conservative Government recently admitted did not exist. Further, they have made contradictory and misleading statements regarding the technical and financial problems facing the F-35s.
The Conservatives were found in contempt of Parliament in the spring of 2011, in part for their refusal to be forthcoming with the true costs for the F35 program.
“What we see today is the exposure of a clear and blatant pattern of dishonesty and incompetence by the Conservative government and its Ministers,” said Valeriote. “When we brought up these multiple inconsistencies over the past two years, there was no need for the Conservatives to persist with their defence of the F35 program except for their inability to admit being wrong.”
In the wake of this scathing report, the Conservative government appears ready to throw bureaucrats and our armed forces under yet another bus, despite responsibility for this fiasco lying squarely with the Prime Minister. Under his leadership this Government has tried to hide the truth and attacked their political opponents including the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer, who put the costs of the F-35 at $29 billion over a year ago. Initially this fact was denied but today we discover he was very close to the actual $25 billion budget despite the Governments provision of misleading and inaccurate F-35 program information to the PBO from the start.