The opposition parties would have us believe that the controversial spending estimates for Canada’s eventual purchase of 65 F-35 fighters equates to a real spending scandal, the like of which we saw regularly under the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien.
Remember the Sponsorship Scandal, or Jane Stewart’s billion-dollar Human Resources Development boondoggle, or the billion dollar cost over-run when implementing the Long-gun Registry to name but three? Those involved real money lost or unaccounted for by government departments under the supervision of Liberal ministers.
In the current dust-up in Ottawa, we have opposition MPs and CTV and CBC news hosts and pundits apparently ignoring the fact that no money has yet been spent to purchase a single jet. Yes, the estimates seem questionable. But no money has been wasted or misappropriated.
When the Liberals started the process to replace our aging fleet of jet fighters, they determined there were no better fighters to be had than the F-35s. We and our allies had forecasted our future needs—up to 30 years out, apparently—and come to the conclusion Lockheed Martin could be contracted to develop and build a fighter to meet most of those needs. That plane became the F-35 Lightning II.
We, the public, will not likely be told all the details of what we and our allies considered to be future military needs. For example, it would be embarrassing to our government if it were made public that it saw a military threat from China in future decades, and saw some of the F-35’s capabilities as crucial in any response we and our allies might want to make against China’s aggressive behaviour in, say, the South China Sea. For national security reasons there is a limit to the transparency we can have in military procurement.
So this is almost certainly the jet fighter that is best for us going forward, and the actual cost per plane will not likely be the deciding factor—the total number of planes will be adjusted to keep our budget onside.
But here’s what does bother me about this affair: Auditor General Michael Ferguson, in his recent report, presents evidence that the government knew the costs were $10-billion higher than the figure it gave to the public. In his 2011 report, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page also disagreed with the government’s public estimate.
So we seem to have deliberate obfuscation on the part of one or more senior minister. And that’s unacceptable.