Fighter planes and just desserts

Lana Payne
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I am guessing Kevin Page doesn't get invited to many Conservative cocktail parties. And that's unlikely to change after last week.

The parliamentary budget officer (PBO) has done a brilliant job, over and over again, of punching holes in the Harper Conservatives' pretense of transparency and accountability and their contention that they are such great economic and fiscal managers.

You can bet the Conservatives are just dying to get rid of him. And yet Canadians need the fearless Mr. Page. He has been pretty fundamental to our democracy as of late.

He has consistently highlighted just how poorly the federal Conservatives are at math or, more pointedly, telling the full truth.

He has accused the federal government of "total obfuscation" or confusing Canadians regarding the real and huge financial hit provinces will take as a result of the new omnibus crime legislation.

But perhaps the PBO's most significant contribution to transparency and accountability is his work on the real cost of fighter jets to the people of Canada.

Last year, Page told Canadians that the federal Conservative government's estimates regarding the cost of 65 new F-35 fighter jets was off by about $10 billion.

His assessment has now been proven by Michael Ferguson, Canada's new auditor general.

And not only was Page proven right, but it is becoming clear that Parliament was deceived by the governing Conservatives either deliberately or because the government refused to ask Department of National Defence (DND) officials about the real costs of the fighter jets when Page reported his findings last year.

Because as was pointed out by the federal auditor general, DND did know that the jets would cost at least $25 billion, not the $15 billion the government was quoting.

What's unclear is if this is a case of don't ask, don't tell, or if the government lied to Parliament. Either way, it's bad. Incompetence on the one hand. Lying on the other.

Just as bad for the governing Conservatives is the fact that, according to the auditor general, a fair competition was not held for the most expensive military purchase in Canadian history. The fighter jets' report, on top of the AG's report on the G8 spending scandal, blows up any narrative the Conservatives wish to spin regarding how they are the best managers of the country's finances.

In reviewing briefing materials, Ferguson says ministers were not informed of the cost problems with the jets.

But there is no excuse for not asking, especially after Page's report last March pointing out that there was at least a $10-billion discrepancy.

And yet instead of giving Page the benefit of the doubt, he was attacked by the Conservatives.

The opposition parties, in usual Harper fashion, were attacked as well, when they questioned the cost of the fighter jets, for being un-Canadian and not supporting our troops.

But if you were the minister of Defence and serious questions were raised by someone with Page's credentials wouldn't you ask for proof to counter his calculations?

The media smells blood.

It's about time. For too long, the Harper Conservatives, perhaps the worst fiscal managers ever (reckless corporate tax cuts), have succeeded in spinning their record as otherwise.

No longer. The fighter jet fiasco has ended that little party.

John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail said this in his column last week: "A government that promotes itself as a responsible steward of the economy has bungled the biggest and most important contract on its watch.

A prime minister who practically branded criticism of the F-35 acquisition as treasonous must now deeply regret, and will have to eat, his words."

Yep, it can't get much worse than this.

And for good measure, Kevin Page issued the following news release after the auditor general's damning report.

"In March 2011, the (PBO) provided Parliament with a report on the estimated acquisition and sustainment costs associated with Canada's planned purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets. Shortly thereafter, the Department of National Defence (DND) responded to the PBO report. In that response, DND claimed that the total costs associated with the F-35 program would be approximately $15 billion. However, the recent auditor general's report reveals that, in June 2010, DND's true cost estimate was approximately $25 billion - representing a difference of $10 billion. The inclusion of this difference would bring DND's cost estimate in line with that of the PBO. The PBO remains ready and willing to serve Parliament by providing independent analysis on any new options the government may wish to consider replacing Canada's aging fleet of CF-18s."

Zing! Can you say political boondoggle? Oh, the irony of it all.

Bet Jean Chrétien found time for a little chuckle this week. Kevin Page probably did, too.

Heck, anyone who has denounced the Conservatives for demonizing the opposition and for their "you're either with us or against us" mentality ought to take the opportunity to dance a little jig.

Unfortunately, many of them are dealing with the fallout from the federal austerity budget.

Oh, and by the way, at the very least, Defence Minister Peter Mac- Kay should resign.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at Her column returns April 21.

Organizations: Harper Conservatives, Department of National Defence, Globe and Mail Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • David
    April 08, 2012 - 10:47

    It is obvious that Newfoundlanders are, universally, totally in the tank for anything political, as if it were oxygen or it cured disease. In the hope that someone...even just one person....has the power of rational thought at their disposal, I will ask this question: What is the difference between this F-35 business and those 4 British junk subs? Different party, exact same arrogance and incompetence. If we each simply show up like robots at voting booths and continue to write the 'X' in the same box election after election, we deserve exactly what we escalating pattern of electoral lies to secure important jobs for incompetent, deceitful, arrogant crooks --- regardless of party (after all, party affiliation has been proven not to mean much of anything when opportunity strikes). Restoring the threat of holding them accountable is our only hope.

    • John II
      April 08, 2012 - 17:15

      ...and you do that by voting for anybody but the incumbent. Regretfully we get the same wolf in different colour clothes.

  • Jeb
    April 07, 2012 - 20:47

    Rex Murphy tore a much deserved strip off the deadbeat MacKay on The National, Thursday nite. There was a time we pitied MacKay when he was reported to be courting Belinda Stronich and Condoleeza Rice. In retrospect I pity the ladies. MacKay conned & used 'em for his own public and political benefit. In Real Estate we call that "curb appeal".

    • Janice
      April 08, 2012 - 06:05

      I lost any and all respect for Peter MacKay after he backstabbed David Orchard following the 2003 PC leadership convention.

  • Spear
    April 07, 2012 - 14:55

    The conservative goverments, Steve Harper, PeterMackay , The Finance ( Economic Cover-up)Minister, the Labour Minister(protecting the Corporate Elite ),and the entire Conservatives MPs Must be tried for "Treason" by deceiving the Canadian People.

  • Harvey
    April 07, 2012 - 11:23

    Oh,what a tangled web weave when first we practise to decieve.- The whole rammed works should resign