The F-35 is not like a minivan


Tabatha Southey finds ten ways that Peter MacKay’s minivan analogy fails to explain the government’s accounting.

If the people who hired me to buy them a minivan were working with a finite budget and asked me to follow the written procedure they use in these situations. Supposing they said to me, “Please determine for us as best as possible the true cost of minivan ownership. Not the price, but the cost. Do it the way you promised you would, after that kerfuffle with those Cyclone and Chinook helicopters you picked up for us a few years back.” I would do that. Because I wouldn’t want to be fired, which is eventually (okay, after only four hours) what happened at the Pita Pocket.

Nonetheless, here is another attempt to explain military procurement as analogous to the purchase of a new family vehicle, this time to lecture the auditor general about what he should have been looking at.

Expanding on comments we noted last week, Liberal MP Marc Garneau questions the entirety of the F-35 process.

To this day, Canadians have not been shown a clearly stated set of requirements for the CF-18 replacement. Instead, they have been told that Canada needs the only “fifth-generation” aircraft available — a requirement which, as the Auditor-General points out, is not an operational one. The government has failed to tell us what mission capabilities it expects from the CF-18 replacement. It has failed to hold on open competition in order to select the best aircraft possible based on performance, cost, availability and industrial benefits. Finally, it has failed to accept any accountability whatsoever.

The CBC has colour-coded charts (including an estimate that the 30-year cost of the F-35 could be $33.19 billion).


The F-35 is not like a minivan

  1. Southey’s column should be called Banal, not Tart. 

  2. MacKay is more suited to selling minivans at “Honest Pete’s Used Cars” – not being in charge of an astronomical purchase on behalf of the taxpayers of Canada.


    • Actually, I think DND should buy a fleet of F-350s instead F-35s. For one thing, it’s a ‘way bigger number, by a factor of 10. Even the toy soldier with his elementary accounting skills could figure that out. Also, each copy of the Ford product comes at a tiny fraction of the cost of the Lockhead Martin machine. The only problem might be that the F-350 is also limited by having a single engine.

  3. If Lockheed Martin actually knew how many airplanes were going to be truely purchased they could give you a ball park number of what each airplane is going to cost. But since the US Goverment doesn’t know how many airplanes they are actually going to purchase , nor do any of the JSF partners, Lockheed Martin can only give a really rough estimate.  

    Also the Canadian operational costs for the F-35 is based on the data for the 30 year old F-18 so you can expect major improvement in engine and system reliabilty for the F-35. So the Auditor Generals cost report is just as much of a joke as the Conservatives Cost Estimate. Canada won’t know the price of the F-35 till we sign on the dotted line.

    •  Peter MacKay 2010 disagrees strongly.  He has this memorandum of understanding.

  4. More on F-35 realities at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds Blog”:

    “F-35: Maybe Good News…”

    Note end of first comment where Mr Garneau is bang on the money.


  5. When I buy the family van I look at sticker price, but that’s not all. Although perhaps not formally, I take into account gas mileage, insurance, depreciation, and reliability in making a final decision.
    Operating costs are part of the decision.
    But the analogy is flawed in another way and one can’t imagine how stupid an advisor must have been to suggest it and for the party spokespeople to try it out.
    When I buy a van it’s all my money.
    When the government buys a plane they are not spending their money they are spending taxpayers money. So they better know exactly how much it is going cost heading out into the distant future.
    So when I buy a van I can do operating costs loosely in my head, and it’s OK, but when the Harper Government buy a plane they are using my money, not their own, and they better use ALL the costs in making a decision.

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