Monday, October 13, 2008

Afghan costs stir uproar.

We cannot increase the quality and quantity of our social safety net because we are going to be in hard times with declining revenues as a result. However we can still afford to increase military spending to be helpers to our neighbours to the south. Unlike the frontrunner in the US presidential campaign however we at least are not about to sink more into the Afghan morass and perhaps start another front in Pakistan.
We will soon hear lots of bleating about a crisis of entitlements. The financial crisis and slower growth will put pressure on budgets. We will soon be subject to Shock Therapy to wean us off what is left of the welfare state. There will be welfare only in the form of bailouts for banks and insurance companies.
Not only is the cost of the mission much more than Harper estimated but as Page reports he was frustrated at every turn when he tried to get data to make the report. He says that the cost could actually be much higher since he was unable to get adequate data in many instances. This is just another instance of Harper trying to manage and control information.
Harper seems more worried about making a misstep than Dion. Harper is in effect hiding from reporters and refusing interviews for the last few days of the campaign. He wants only to appear in controlled scripted sessions. Maybe we will see him in his trademark sweater sitting beside his Thanksgiving turkey with his family.


Afghan costs stir uproar TheStar.com - Federal Election - Afghan costs stir uproar
Layton accuses Tories of misleading Canadians as report says mission costlier than expected
October 10, 2008 Bruce Campion-Smithin OttawaRichard Brennanin SudburyTonda MacCharlesin Richmond, B.C.
The Conservative government deliberately misled Canadians about the mounting cost of Canada's Afghan mission, federal New Democrats said after a new report pegged the price tag at up to $18.1 billion before it ends in 2011.
"They have tried to hide the real cost," NDP Leader Jack Layton said yesterday after the parliamentary budget officer released a report that tallied the cost of the war – and also said that successive Liberal and Conservative governments were not upfront with Canadians.
"Those numbers show the costs of the war are dramatically higher than the (Stephen) Harper government has been telling Canadians. The costs are billions of dollars more. And whether it was the Liberals that took us into the war, the Conservatives who extended the war with the help of the Liberals, they haven't been straight up with Canadians about the cost," said Layton.
The Conservative government has pegged the cost of the war at up to $8 billion, not including related, long-term costs.
Yesterday's independent report thrust the issue of the Afghan conflict into the political arena in the final days of the campaign for Tuesday's election.
Kevin Page, Parliament's independent budget officer, called his report the most "comprehensive" assessment of the price tag of Canada's diplomatic and military efforts in the troubled nation since 2002.
His report suggests Canadians have been kept in the dark about the true costs of the Afghanistan mission, a tally that could top $18.1 billion by the time troops are due to return home in 2011 – or about $1,500 per household.
He also puts a number on the human toll of the mission, saying the total number of soldiers seeking disability and health care claims as a result of their Afghan service could top 7,000.
Harper defended the financial cost as the price of ensuring soldiers and diplomats are well-protected in their work.
"When we have men and women in uniform, diplomats and development workers that are putting their lives on the line, the government will spend what is necessary to make sure they are safe and successful," he said in Richmond, B.C.
And he denied the government was deliberately shielding the cost of the mission from the public.
"Let's be clear here. The debate is not that the numbers are wrong. It's a debate about what to include and what not to include. ... Nevertheless, we're not hiding the fact that these things are expensive."
Harper said the real cost of the mission is the lives of Canadians killed in Afghanistan.
"I regularly speak with soldiers and especially with families who have lost loved ones in this mission. I understand the real cost. The real cost is lives," he said.
Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion, who joined with other Liberals to support the Conservatives and endorse an extension of the mission, was more muted in his criticism, chastising the government for "false transparency."
"Stephen Harper again failed to be transparent and accountable to Canadians," Dion told reporters in Halifax.
"I will be. Canadians will know exactly where we are, in which way it has been mismanaged and by whom, and what we need to do to ensure our mission will be a success between now and 2011, and using taxpayers' money appropriately."
Page suggested he was deliberately frustrated in his search for answers from federal departments, prompting him to condemn the lack of openness around the mission and concede that the real financial cost could be much higher.
"There's a lack of transparency and also some inconsistency in the numbers," Page told a news conference yesterday. "I think it makes it very difficult to do effective oversight when you don't have the kind of transparency and the right accounting practices," he said.
Page took on the study in the summer at the request of New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, who said he was frustrated by the lack of answers from the Conservative government.
The parliamentary budget office, a small operation set up last March, looked at the costs of the military operations, aid and reconstruction, diplomatic efforts and long-term cost of caring for Canada's veterans.
Yesterday, Page reported his findings, estimating that the cost will range from $7.7 billion to $10.5 billion for the period 2001-02 to 2007-08. By the time it ends in 2011, the final price tag will be $13.9 billion to $18.1 billion.
For the low estimate, $7.7 billion for the first seven years of the mission, Page said the government spent $5.9 billion for military operations; $800 million for veterans' benefits; and $1 billion for foreign aid. But Page also cautions that the costs for both the military operations and veterans benefits could be higher, at $7.4 billion and $2.4 billion respectively.
Page said budget reporting to Parliament on the Afghan mission has "not met any appropriate standard or best practice."
"Although Canada is in the seventh year of the mission, Parliament has not been provided with estimates by successive governments on the fiscal costs incurred by all relevant departments," he said.
For example, Veterans Affairs Canada does not report "basic" data related to the mission even though resulting deaths – 97 soldiers killed so far – disability, medical and stress payments are a major cost.
With files from Les Whittington

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