F-35: Hubris is a Greek word that means 'what just happened' - Macleans.ca

F-35: Hubris is a Greek word that means ‘what just happened’

Peter MacKay and the PM should hang their heads in shame


Let’s start with the email Dimitri Soudas, a former press secretary to the Prime Minister, sent from the Prime Minister’s Office on Aug. 25, 2010:

“On 24 August, two CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft were launched and visually identified 2 Russian aircraft, the TU-95 Bear, approximately 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. At their closest point, the Russian aircraft were 30 nautical miles from Canadian soil. The CF-18s shadowed the Bear aircraft until they turned around. The two CF-18s came from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta.

 “Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace.

 “We are happy to report that CF aircraft returned to their base without incident….

 “The CF-18 is an incredible aircraft that enables our Forces to meet Russian challenges in our North. That proud tradition will continue after the retirement of the CF-18 fleet as the new, highly capable and technologically-advanced F-35 comes into service. It is the best plane our Government could provide our Forces, and when you are a pilot staring down Russian long range bombers, that’s an important fact to remember.”

Never mind that the email contained an industrial quantity of bullshit; on a day like today, if we let that slow us down we will never get anywhere. Note, instead, the tone — “when you are a pilot staring down Russian long range bombers;” the assumption, too ludicrous to state outright but there all the same, that if our lonely flyboys don’t stare down the Russians they will be dropping their lethal payload on Edmonton any minute now; and most importantly, the casually assumed identification with the men and women in uniform, who actually do face danger whenever they taxi down a runway, hardly ever from an external enemy, but routinely from altitude, velocity, thin air and the immense hurtling canisters of inflammable liquid upon which they are perched.

This is serious business, the Harper government has said in one way or another a thousand times. They got at least that much right. It is so serious that one of the distinguishing characteristics of most professionals in uniform is an elevated degree of humility, because if you get too far up your own backside you will miss information that could cost lives. That level of humility helps explain why, immediately after Soudas sent his Top Gun email and the Sun papers began a fun week trying to figure out how to spell “Russki,” NORAD put out a news release stating for the record that the Russians had done nothing untoward. “Both Russia and NORAD routinely exercise their capability to operate in the North,” the people who actually wear uniforms and actually stare at bombers wrote. “These exercises are important to both NORAD and Russia and are not cause for alarm.”

There is a straight line from that day to today, when Peter MacKay should be hanging his head in shame and the Prime Minister of Canada with him, but instead they put on the kind of asinine spectacle that has my very even-tempered colleague Geddes plainly struggling to contain his temper. That line is drawn along the hard rule of a simplistic assumption that has been pervasive in this government: that because Conservatives like soldiers and pilots and airplanes, and the Liberals don’t, then the Conservatives will make correct decisions and any critic, anywhere, must therefore be a Liberal and therefore — what’s the word? — treasonous.

Stéphane Dion used to ask about the treatment of Afghan prisoners who were legally a Canadian responsibility. Stephen Harper used to say Dion cared more about the Taliban than about Canadian troops. The details of the file cost Gordon O’Connor his job as defence minister, and incidentally, on the ground in Afghanistan, real Canadian troops were scrambling to adjust, day after day after day, to meet and reconcile two requirements they, at least, took very seriously: the need to keep large numbers of potential bad guys out of circulation, and the need to respect those prisoners’ most elementary human rights. Which meant Stéphane Dion had a point.

Michael Ignatieff voted to defeat the government in the spring of 2011, and then Ignatieff led his party to historic defeat and he lost his own seat and ho-ho, isn’t it fun, but the really funny thing is that what made Ignatieff vote the way he did was grave concern over the cost of F-35 fighters and the government’s continued snit about even being asked to consider the question. The Canadian people voted the way they did, and there was probably real insight in their decision that the Liberals should be pushed further from power rather than invited closer to it. But if the Conservatives had “pressed the reset button” 20 months ago instead of today, then real pilots who have to stare down real threats would be 20 months closer to real equipment that might really help. Instead the pilots’ friends at Langevin have done the pilots a real disservice.

Every once in a while the government does listen to an opposition member, or a critic outside politics. It does reconcile its vision of the world with others’. That’s been an important part of Stephen Harper’s political longevity, too rarely recognized. But there was never any real chance that it would do so on a military procurement file until it was far, far too late, because Conservatives like soldiers and pilots and airplanes. This is how your strengths become weaknesses. There should be a designated full-time devil’s advocate in the PMO, somebody the prime minister trusts a lot and fears a little. The person should argue, every day, that the government might be wrong. We used to have a civil service to do that, but those days are gone. On odd days, the designated full-time devil’s advocate could preface his remarks by saying, “I’m not really the devil’s advocate, you know. I’m the Queen’s, and the Canadian people’s, and yours too, if you’re smart.”






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F-35: Hubris is a Greek word that means ‘what just happened’

  1. This is a righteous piece of work Wells. Fantastic.

  2. The most galling thing today has been the Conservatives refusing to admit any wrongdoing while essentially blowing up this whole process and starting over. Are we starting over because you did a GOOD job with this file? Is this seriously what the Harper and MacKay would have us believe?

    Maybe that devil’s advocate might say it isn’t a good idea to treat Canadians like complete idiots.

    • Maybe that devil’s advocate might say it isn’t a good idea to treat Canadians like complete idiots.


      usually I picture the CPC chortling behind their hands about the type of voters they tend to cultivate, today they are breathing a sigh of relief about the type of voters they try to cultivate. (shorter answer: hasn’t hurt them so far)/

      • I know… but what happened today takes the treating-us-like-idiots cake.

        • And adds another entry in the list of apologies the Government owes to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

  3. The CPC’s inability to accept criticism and listen to other people is also evident in their unwillingness to accept amendments to bills. In any normal universe, if you have a meeting with 8 colleagues, and 1000 suggestions are made, they won’t all be turned down. It’s highly unlikely that every idea given was a terrible one.

    • If they are so unable to listen, why do you think they cancel the F-35s? Your argument doesn’t make sense.

      • They haven’t even cancelled the F-35s; they’ve merely hit the reset button (whatever that means).

  4. When asked today whether he regretted any of the criticisms he had launched at those who had questioned the F-35 procurement process, MacKay replied that he was very proud of the work members of the Canadian Forces do.

    • if he is proud of what they do, why do we treat our veterans like second rate citizens

  5. ‘Hubris is a Greek word that means “what just happened”’

    Gosh, I dunno. Last I heard we were being told it meant Harper was playing Chess….even 3D Chess…. and we were all too dumb to understand it.

    But…..seems it actually meant Harper was playing Tiddlywinks, or maybe Fish….or even perhaps Mumblety peg….[X-rated explanation on request only ]…..and some people fell for it like a ton of bricks.

    Ahhh the siren song of a Senate seat eh?

  6. CS Lewis ~ Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

  7. It is technocratic government we have had for past forty years. Small coterie of supposedly smart white people who make decisions for all of us. Problem with this is quality of people that are attracted to politics – mainly snake oil salesmen – who only care about image. Politics is all about image and posturing between parties and pols and there is never any substance in the debates, all superficial. Canadian politics is style before substance and it only attracts buffoons and knaves.

    If our pols truly cared about our pilots, wouldn’t we have new fighters by now? CF-18 Hornets are old and there are at least a few planes Canada could have bought already if we so desired. Much of the rhetoric around F-35 makes me think of toys for the boys.

  8. 3 stories on the F-35 on Macleans and you might even see double figures in number of comments here. I don`t know any CPC supporters who are pleased with the way this procurement has been handled, and trust me, neither Harper or MacKay are too happy.

    So why are you able to grasp the attention of hordes of Con Critics when you do a story about a glass of orange juice charged to the expense account of a cabinet Minister 5 years ago, or an offhand remark made a dozen years ago by Harper about the role of pogey in the Atlantic Provinces ?

    Probably because the history of military procurement, whether it be 3 thousand dollar toilets or penalties for cancelled helicopter deals has led to cynicism in regards to good financial management. Or maybe because it`s a well known fact that when it comes to financial management, neither the NDP or Liberals have any credibility. It`s a lot easier to toss around the low hanging fruit.

    • BS, Andrew…it’s a well-known fact that good financial management cannot be expected from secretive and untrustworthy Conservatives.

    • Lemme get this straight… are you employing the tried-and-true ‘the Liberals were worse’ argument, or are you suggesting the only people capable of holding the Conservative government to account are other Conservatives? A little of both, maybe?

      Truthful, competent government… is it simply too much to ask or to expect from this or any other government? Must we be satisfied with this?

      • I`m just saying that most people realize the NDP would rather increase the CBC budget then spend money on defence procurements and the Liberals have a poor record recently on military spending, so they give the Conservatives a free pass—-well, one free pass anyway.

        • And here, class, we see how 37% of the population really is stupid enough to give the CPC a majority.

          • I would argue that the supporters of the opposition are stupid for spending their time chasing silly complaints and whining about those of us who chose to elect a Conservative Government.

          • They also make thousands of recommendations for changes to improve legislation the CPC wants to pass, only to have every single suggestion not just ignored, but treated with disdain.

            So a little reciprocal pettiness is to be expected…

        • So any spending on military even poorly thought out, money costing, law breaking, lieing to parliament spending is fine? If the Harper Gov was serious about military spending it would have purchased things that work using the correct mechanisms. It wasn’t.
          I’d rather increase CBC’s budget because doing that by half wouldn’t equal the total that this government has cost us by delaying and obstructing scrutiny into this flying white elephant.

          Oh and before you ask I would buy trucks for the military, because we seriously need them and we know that they actually work.

          • —Interesting that you should mention the CBC—the cost of keeping the old public broadcaster is about the same as supplying the new aircraft.

            Oh, and these new trucks you would buy—Would they have wings on them to get them aloft or would you just have some guys swinging the doors open and closed.

          • As you were bitching about bang for your buck, I thought you were serious. Silly me.
            As an over all military resource, medium trucks are much more useful on a daily basis for military purposes. The trucks that the CF have right now are close to unserviceable, dangerous and need replacing now (faulty brakes and excessive rust). Of course MacKay obviously won’t look even slightly heroic posing in the cab of one, so that won’t happen and guess what even though the brake and rust warning came from way back in 2004 the contract was cancelled in 2008, why? Because the project over ran by $300 million?
            These vehicles are ready, they are there, they actually do the job that the CF requires them to do but they clearly didn’t over run by enough to become sacred to Harper and Co.
            So once more if Harper and the DoD really gave a crap about readiness and efficiency they would have bought the trucks by now instead of spending all their time defending something that hasn’t flown, doesn’t do what we need it to do and looks like costing an arm and a leg more than it was once supposed to have done.
            As for the CBC, it actually does what it is supposed to, for the same price you would rather we buy 65 exotic door stops?

          • Sure, if “about the same” means the planes cost 50% more.

    • I hasten to add that the Conservatives are now essentially adopting the approach advocated by the NDP and Liberals several months ago, an approach which, back then, was demonized and ridiculed by your party… and you’re questioning the NDP and Liberals’ financial management and spending decisions? Gimme a break.

    • It`s not me that is questioning the credibility of Liberals or Dippers to come up with solid spending alternatives. It appears to be their supporters who would rather spend their time slamming silly controversies about Conservatives then encourage their Party elders to offer credible alternatives concerning important government policies.

      So you end up with spectacles like Mulcair all over the place with his oil sands policies, and Trudeau flitting around from rodeos, to high schools, to Islamic Conferences, trying to be all things to all people and ending up looking foolish.

      No wonder Harper seems to be enjoying himself.

      • For pete’s sake, YOUR PARTY IS ADOPTING THE VERY ALTERNATIVE THE OPPOSITION HAS BEEN PROPOSING FOR MONTHS. The VERY ALTERNATIVE your party ridiculed months ago. They came up with it months ago and they were called unCanadian, non-troop-supporting, every name in the book. Your party RIDICULED the alternative proposed by the NDP and Liberals that you’re now adopting.

        • It’s almost like when certain posters were talking about how lucky the CPC is that their follower are so, for want of a better word – stupid, and their followers showed up to provide an example.

        • Jeez, stop yelling—who do you think you are Tom Mulcair ?

          I`m just saying that the constant whining about petty complaints and silly talk about coalitions and contempts and orange juice the past few years has resulted in the tuning out of the opposition by most people. They won`t own this stepdown by the government.

          • Sorry, but questioning the credibility of the Liberals and Dippers on the same day you’re reversing your policy to adopt the Liberal/Dipper position is, well, incredible.

          • He has to or his warranty is void.

          • I suppose that non-sequiter isn’t as bad as “I support the troops!” Though the utter lack of shame is eerily similar.

    • Happy or not, they had a large period during which they had the opportunity to not say and do stupid things, and did not take that opportunity and made stupid comments when people suggested they do not stupid things.

      • Hubris does strange things to the mind.

    • Give it up. Andrew – it`s this mindless spinning that has gotten you into the large commnications hole you now find yourself in.

  9. Great piece, well written except for the stupid headline. I’m sorry that is not the definition of hubris, which more properly is: the consequences of excessive pride and self indulgence. The Greek goddess Nemesis ensured that Hubris came to those who deserved it.

    Very likely Nemesis will be casting her gaze upon Mssrs. Mackay and Harper after this debacle . . .

    • Annnnnd the consequences of excessive pride and self indulgence are what just happened. It’s almost like that was my point.

      • I got that Paul. Just don’t mis-quote the definition of the term. Again, good work.

        • OldSteve doesn`t like it when OldPaul gets too cute with his writings.

        • If you pulled that stick out a bit, you might be able to see that Paul wasn’t actually providing a direct definition, but rather a description. Only an idiot would assume he was attempting to give a definition, because even idiots seem to know what the actual definition is.

        • Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a nearly hanging-chad scale?

          From one perspective, a certain irony attends the publication of any good new book on American usage. It is that the people who are going to be interested in such a book are also the people who are least going to need it, i.e., that offering counsel on the finer points of U.S. English is Preaching to the Choir. The relevant Choir here comprises that small percentage of American citizens who actually care about the current status of double modals and ergative verbs. The same sorts of people who watched Story of English on PBS (twice) and read W. Safire’s column with their half-caff every Sunday. The sorts of people who feel that special blend of wincing despair and sneering superiority when they see EXPRESS LANE — 10 ITEMS OR LESS or hear dialogue used as a verb or realize that the founders of the Super 8 motel chain must surely have been ignorant of the meaning of suppurate. There are lots of epithets for people like this — Grammar Nazis, Usage Nerds, Syntax Snobs, the Language Police. The term I was raised with is SNOOT. The word might be slightly self-mocking, but those other terms are outright dysphemisms. A SNOOT can be defined as somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn’t mind letting you know it.


  10. Harper has no credibility

  11. “Conservatives like soldiers and pilots and airplanes.” Correction. Conservatives like the CONCEPT of soldiers and pilots and airplanes. They actually ignore veterans, cut their benefits and refuse to support them once they return from the field.

    As a former member of the Canadian Forces (Infantry), it disgusts me to see this Government wrap itself in the flag and our military history yet constantly spit on the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect Canada and our values.

    The Cons will push hard for cool new equipment to play with while completely defunding support for the men and women dealing with PTSD or supporting their families.

    A fact that they should be called out on.

  12. The Cons managed to take a plane that hasn’t even proven itself airworthy yet and used it to fly too close to the sun.

  13. For those of you that are tired of the criticism of procurement procedure failings and budgetary missed targets, without suggestions of what we “could” do better, I suggest you read Elizabeth May’s 2011 spring alternative budget. She submitted it then for review and the fed gov’t auditor gave it a sound evaluation. Good suggestions that if heeded, would have us in a better position today. Most wont take the time to read it or consider it anymore than the Cons that are not open to other’s ideas. Omnibus Bills where even a comma isn’t open for debate demonstrates how closed off they are. But if you have the time and an open mind, it’s nice to see how the GPC and May think. I really liked the twin engine requirement for any jet purchases. In our climate, that makes sense.

    • Point well taken, of course, but one of the things that was so galling was that everyone except the government had a pretty simple solution for what we could do better, and it was fairly obvious.

      • And what was that? What plane do you suggest?

  14. Nice to see the role of Her Majesties Loyal Opposition get a pat on the back from a respected source.

    That said i still wonder about the role of the media in branding[ read uber partisan] exercises taken to their logical absurd ends, such as this one. Sure the CPC came in for its share of mockery and some good investigative reporting along the way. I accept they can only do so much – you can’t force the patient to take the meds or the horses ass[ guess who] to admit that using the airforce as your personal taxi service maybe isn’t too politic. But it has to be said the real time, day to day, horse race aspect of much of the MSM’s coverage from an opposition pov sucked. Some,In a sense, egged the Cons on by allowing it was mean to boot around folks like Dion and Jack, and the PM really shouldn’t since they had a point; but didn’t it all show how this PM underneath it all was one tough minded, tenacious, principled, oak of a conservative variety of dense wood – unlike his wimpy counterparts on the opposition benches?[ take a break while all the wimpy type evidence is trotted out to make that case, then onward] Nod nod, wink wink. A winner! In other more suggestive, less ambiguously dissonant terms .I mean it all does end up in elections you know! There are consequences.

    I know, it’s the way of the world. Been going on for ever. They did the same thing to Stanfield for instance when Trudeau was the alpha male.News flash.Life’s not fair! But i get tired of these retrospective corrections of the record by the media, whenever they tend to pop up. As if they didn’t have a hand in making the soup taste crappy.

    My 2cent rant anyway. There’s little or nothing to be done. The media isn’t a hive collective like the borg. It seems to have its good and bad parts, and it is the politicians who ultimately make the choices and have to live with them.

    Any chance of a little old fashioned humility from the Harper boys on this subject from now on in then?[ break for hysterical mirth] Go on put the boots in media. They’ve certainly earned it by now. I’m cheering. Really i am.

  15. Great article Paul. In a way I felt sorry for the two Ministers at the Press Conference. Their boby language was telling me they did not want to be there, but if they did not say what the PMO told them to say they would be demoted. Shame that we have this kind of Government that we have to put up for the next three years!

    • I don’t feel sorry for these ministers who are so desperate for their jobs and appearance of power that they kowtow to PMO and let BS happen under their watch AT ALL. In fact, I find them the most despicable of all — hard to understand the egos that propel them to run for office, and then slip under the radar so they can enjoy their entitlements with no accountability. Despicable people.

  16. All the more reason for Canadians to rewrite the PURPOSE and PRINCIPLES of government that we want. Without our efforts not much will change. No matter which party is in power.

    • Which part of “Peace, Order, and Good Governance” would you rather we do without?

      The problem isn’t with our principles, it’s with the principles of those we’ve chosen to enact them.

  17. Brilliant.

  18. To add to the danger, those “hurtling canisters of inflammable liquid” are actually flammable.

    • You’ve never looked up the definition of inflammable. That’s so sweet.

  19. It’s a bit rich for Wells and posters to accuse the Conservatyives of being too pro-army. I guess the Liberal way of neglect is better for most lefties. And the fact that the Conservatives have backed down and cancel the F 35s prove they at least listen. Unlike Chretien and the long-gun registry.

    • While the gun registry was disasterously managed, the better control of guns it required might have prevented the recent shootings States side had they enforced such storage requirements. Leaving guns and ammo accessible to kids in the house is a recipe for more columbine events.

  20. My only concern is how much did it cost to join the Group of countries for the F35 and how much money did Canadian companies make.

  21. So, which party is going to stand up and cancel the F-35?