On Friday, April 6th, 2012 in Blogs

In July 2010, I wrote a column for my local paper, Island Tides, on the decision to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets.  Now that the Auditor General has confirmed what everyone knew, that the planes were wildly over-budget and that we were being misled (lied to?) at every turn, I decided to go back and look at my column.     

On the costs I wrote:

Like many military contracts in the US, the costs of the F-35 have spiralled and are way over budget.  In March 2010, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates told the Congress that it was “unacceptable” that the F-35 is 50% over-budget.  Costs of developing the new fighter jets is approaching $300 billion. With bureaucratic baffle-gab that takes your breath away, the Pentagon critique of the fighter jet programme concluded: “affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar.”

On the question of whether the F35s met Canadian defence needs:

Peter MacKay enthused about the jets.  Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets are exciting new toys.  They are so exciting that our government did not hold an open contracting process.  We only wanted these planes. They can take off and land on aircraft carriers. They have stealth coating.  They can engage in air to air combat and rely on mid-air re-fueling.  ….  We don’t have aircraft carriers.  We have no plausible security scenario in which air to air combat is anticipated.  (The Battle of Britain was a long time ago.) And stealth coating?  Are we planning a surprise invasion? 

True, our aging CF-18s need to be replaced.  Our large geography has always led to a priority choice for two-engine planes, so if a plane is in a remote spot and loses an engine, the pilot can get to a safe place to land.  The F-35s are single engine planes.  Asked what will happen if the engine fails, Peter MacKay replied “it won’t.” We need planes for search and rescue.  The F-35 is not appropriate for search and rescue.

My column concluded:

So, it seems Canada is spending money we don’t have for planes we don’t need. And it seems we are doing this to hold our place in some macho military solidarity with the Pentagon. The opportunity costs of $16 billion for fighter jets is enormous  — in lost opportunities to reduce poverty, create jobs, protect health care and fight climate change.  None of this has been debated or discussed in the House.  And it was not in the 2010 budget.   I will work with other parties to reverse this sale and direct priorities to those Canadians value.

So, I was still using the Harper $16 billion estimate.  But when the Parliamentary Budget Officer explained that those costs were off by about $10 billion or so, I believed him.  Stephen Harper attacked him.

The point is that not even willful blindness of the most acute variety can be pleaded by the Prime Minister in his attack on the Parliamentary Budget Officer.  If I knew the planes were being chosen without criteria or a proper open bidding process, that the whole project was a boondoggle and that Canada was going to be spending $25 billion on planes we did not need, so too did everyone else.

The Auditor General’s report should be required reading for every voter who thought Stephen Harper had the qualities of a wise manager of the public purse.

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  • ex coelis

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the issue now the way the Conservatives knowingly used a deliberately low price during the election?

    Today, Peter McKay is standing in front of the cameras creating a rouge. A rouge that somehow we’re upset with his “accounting”. Nobody could care less about that. Our beef is with the fact we were knowingly mislead. Nice duck and bob by Peter. I guess that’s politics.

  • G. W. Markle

    A little bedtime story for Peter Mackay

    The F-35 Affair: A Short Romance

    Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Boys and their toys!
    A very impressive penis Mr. MacKay, but it looks like you won’t be getting to use it.
    Instead of trying to screw Canadians, maybe you can try screwing yourself.
    It looks like you already have.

    Off to bed Peter, it’s time to retire.

  • HRebecca

    I really hope the Canadian public thinks very carefully about this. It is becoming an excruciating wait for the next federal election!! Harper’s priorities are degrading the Canada 60% of Canadians identify with. You are absolutely right, Elizabeth…it’s the wrong type of aircraft for the uses we need. This is a toy that is superlatively wasteful of taxpayer dollars. What the heck are they thinking?

  • jbmotox

    Thanks for your work on this subject.(and many others)This current way of steering our country can only lead to less than favorable results. I hope people become more involved in what is going on around them politically. It is more important than ever.

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