Following a condemning report on the joint strike fighter program from the Auditor General Michael Ferguson earlier this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government finally admitted there were problems with their beloved F-35 jets.
The report also accused the Department of National Defence (DND) for not being wholly open with the information it was giving to government and its bureaucrats, especially about the escalating cost estimates.
It appears Mr. Harper suspected the jig was up when there was no mention of the F-35 jets in the budget speech other than to note that the CF-18 Hornets had to be replaced.
Immediately after the Auditor General’s report was released, the Tories froze the spending for the F-35 program.
Next, the government announced it was withdrawing DND’s ability to purchase new weapon systems and hand them off to Public Works.
Obviously, this was a move to appear to be doing something and to deflect opposition criticism in the House of Commons.
However, the $30-billion, and possibly growing, price tag on the F-35 jets isn’t new information for the Tories.
In March 2011, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page noted the cost of the F-35 program would be closer to $30 billion because the $15-billion price tag DND was tossing around didn’t include ongoing training, personnel and operating costs.
At the time, the Tory government and its MPs, representing Ottawa in our communities, stubbornly refused to admit costs were spiralling out of control for the F-35 stealth fighters, and pointed accusatory fingers at Mr. Page for not providing accurate fingers.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod said Page was comparing “apples and oranges” when he accused of the government of giving a lowball cost estimate.
She, in turn, accused him of basing his costs on a 30-year maintenance program rather than the government’s 20-year estimate.
While the federal Liberal Opposition hammered away at getting a true costing for the F-35 jets, the Harper government continued to defend the F-35s.
This refusal to come clean and share the information with the House of Commons came to a head when the opposition passed a lack of confidence vote against the minority government and forced last year’s federal election.
During the ensuing election campaign, the Conservatives continued to pull the wool over the nation’s eyes by denying the escalating cost and technical problems.
They were rewarded for their evasiveness by being handed a majority government.
It lends credence to the old adage you can fool all of the people some of the time.