Friday, December 14, 2012

Will Harper finally pull the plug on the F-35 purchase?

According to a December 6 article in the Ottawa Citizen, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has finally decided to pull the plug on a planned purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets.
An audit, soon to be released by KPMG accountants, will push the projected life-cycle cost of each plane to well above $30 billion. Some even put the figure at close to $40 billion. NOTE: Actually it turns out to be around $45 billion according to the KPMG report. Faced with the huge increases in costs, the operations committee of the federal Cabinet decided to scrap the sole-source program and begin looking at other sources, claims the Ottawa Citizen, citing an anonymous source familiar with the decision.
The Prime Minister's Office denied a media report that the F-35 purchase was dead saying that the report was "inaccurate on a number of fronts". The statement also promised that the government would update the House of Commons on its seven point plan to replace the jets before the Xmas break. The government also claims that no decision has been made on buying the F-35 planes to replace Canada's aging CF-18 fighter jets.
Opposition members of parliament hammered the government on Friday, claiming that the government has consistently hidden the cost of the F-35 jets from the public. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said:
"I don't see how the minister of defence [Peter MacKay] can possibly continue in his job. He's basically been a sales spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the manufacturers of the F-35, since he took office. He's denigrated and attacked every person in opposition, in the Liberal Party or elsewhere, who has ever raised concerns or questions about this."
Speaking in Toronto, Rae claimed that the government has constantly misled Canadians:
"The government has consistently misled Canadians about the true cost of this aircraft. They've misled Canadians about their degree of oversight and their readiness to deal with the situation."
The Harper government had already put its purchase plan in neutral, if not reverse. Last April, the Canadian Auditor General questioned the reliability of the military's figures on costs of the planes. The government then announced it would undertake an "options analysis" and would consider alternative fighter jets that might meet the military's needs. Prior to this, the government's argument was that only the F-35 could meet the military's needs and that was why there was no competitive bid! The KPMG audit was to be part of the review process.
Originally the cost of the entire project was announced by MacKay as being just $9 billion for the 65 planes. However, a report by the government's own budget office put the cost at $29.3 billion. The federal auditor general put the total cost to buy and maintain the planes at $25 billion. Questions about the F-35 during question period in parliament were not answered by MacKay but by others.
In response to a reporter MacKay said:
"What I can tell you is we're following the seven-point plan as we have been now for some months and into next week there will be an open and transparent discussion about the next steps that are going to follow in the CF-18 replacement."
MacKay and a transparent discussion, something straight out of Onion! In the interests of transparency no doubt, when asked whether the cost would be $40 billion, MacKay did not respond.
The New Democratic Party defence critic, Jack Harris said:
"The whole process is in a shambles, quite frankly. This is not good enough. We've got enough misleading information out there in front of the public.... They didn't do their due diligence, they didn't have an open, fair and transparent process. They've demonstrated their incompetence in a $40-billion-plus contract."
Harris pointed out that the Conservatives attacked anyone who questioned their figures, including their own parliamentary budget office Kevin Page. See the marvelous video with Kevin Page below.
Whenever the purchase plan and process were questioned, the government and military have constantly maintained that the F-35 was the only plane that would be suitable for Canada's needs. Many expect that the specifications were drawn up so that only the F-35 could meet them. Suddenly, all has changed. General Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff told parliamentarians that there were other planes with stealth capabilities.
When Lockheed Martin was asked questions, the company said that they should be asked to the Canadian Department of National Defence but also said:
"Lockheed Martin has been a partner with the Canadian Forces for more than 50 years. We continue to look forward to supporting the Canadian government as they work to provide their air force fifth-generation capability for their future security needs,"
We can expect more fireworks in parliament when the KPMG audit is released and the government provides an update. Peter MacKay the defence minister has not offered to resign and no doubt won't, although it might be a nice Xmas present for many Canadians.

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