The Harper government responds

by Aaron Wherry

A release issued by the offices of Julian Fantino, Peter MacKay, Rona Ambrose and Christian Paradis.

The Honourable Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women, the Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry, today released the Government of Canada’s comprehensive response to Chapter 2 of the 2012 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada.

In Chapter 2, Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets, the Auditor General recommends that the Government refine its estimates for the full life-cycle costs of the F-35 and make those estimates public. The Government accepts the Auditor General’s recommendation and conclusions.

The Government of Canada is taking the following seven steps to fulfill and exceed the Auditor General’s recommendation:

  • The funding envelope allocated for the acquisition of the F-35 will be frozen.
  • The Government of Canada will immediately establish a new F-35 Secretariat within the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada. The Secretariat will play the lead coordinating role as the Government moves to replace Canada’s CF-18 fleet. A committee of Deputy Ministers will be established to provide oversight of the F-35 Secretariat.
  • The Department of National Defence, through the F-35 Secretariat, will provide annual updates to Parliament. These updates will be tabled within a maximum of 60 days from receipt of annual costing forecasts from the Joint Strike Fighter program office, beginning in 2012. The Department of National Defence will also provide technical briefings as needed through the F-35 Secretariat on the performance schedule and costs.
  • The Department of National Defence will continue to evaluate options to sustain a Canadian Forces fighter capability well into the 21st century.
  • Prior to project approval, Treasury Board Secretariat will first commission an independent review of DND’s acquisition and sustainment project assumptions and potential costs for the F-35, which will be made public.
  • Treasury Board Secretariat will also review the acquisition and sustainment costs of the F-35 and ensure full compliance with procurement policies prior to approving the project.
  • Industry Canada, through the F-35 Secretariat, will continue identifying opportunities for Canadian Industry to participate in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter global supply chain, as well as other potential benefits for Canada in sustainment, testing, and training, and will provide updates to Parliament explaining the benefits.

Canada will not sign a contract to purchase new aircraft until these steps are completed and developmental work is sufficiently advanced.

Canada remains committed to ensuring that the Royal Canadian Air Force has the aircraft it needs to do the jobs we ask of them.

Ministerial Quotes

“Canada has not signed a contract to purchase any aircraft. As we have stated, Canada has set a budget to purchase fighter aircraft to replace the CF-18 and will acquire the F-35 only if and when we can operate within that budget,” said Minister Fantino.

“Funding will remain frozen and Canada will not purchase new aircraft until further due diligence, oversight, and transparency is applied to the process of replacing the Canadian Forces’ aging CF-18 fleet,” said Minister Ambrose.

“This comprehensive response to the 2012 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada once again re-affirms our Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting our brave men and women of the Canadian Forces and exercising responsible stewardship of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” said Minister MacKay.

“Since 1997, Canada has worked with our allies in a unique multinational program to develop and manufacture the F-35. Our participation has generated $435 million in contracts for 70 Canadian companies resulting in skilled work that otherwise would not exist, with more opportunities to come,” said Minister Paradis.




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The Harper government responds

  1. The mistake that was allowing the Conservatives to not only remain in power, but also with a majority must surely be apparent to anyone who pays attention to politics.

  2. This is just a promise to organize procurement the way a reasonable person would expect public officials to behave in the first place, without being told to by the auditor.

    I’ve seen small town councils with more careful, transparent and accountable approaches to buying a single firetruck.

    Unfortunately, the part that’s still missing from this promise to be good now that they’ve been caught, is a reasonable process for establishing the town’s actual fire protection needs first before we starting picking out trucks from the shiny brochures.

    • What, in your view, was lacking about the process that led to the conclusion that Canada needed to replace the 30 year old CF-18s?

      • There’s a great deal of difference between, “these need to be replaced” and “we need an aircraft that will do the following” don’t you think?

        • My second thought is, what is it going to take for MacKay to get something akin to a backbone–or even just a spleen?  He’s still the Minister of Defence, but they’ve got an “Associate” Minister to do everything, and he’s just there to play with helicoptors and have a good time with the troops and stuff.  Does he not see how weak he looks (which is only important when you consider how MacKay’s whole thing is being the tough military guy).  I mean,  how much more is he going to take before crossing the floor (maybe join May, or sit by himself).  Can his voters really respect their representative when he has so little respect for himself?

          EDIT: This was supposed to be in response to briguyhfx

      •  How about any consideration for alternatives that might better suit our (as opposed to the Americans’) needs.

      • What, in your view, was lacking about the process that led to the conclusion that Canada needed to replace the 30 year old CF-18s?

        Knowing that my 30 year old Toyota needs to be replaced is not a logical argument in favour of my “need” to buy a Lamborghini.

        • I was responding to the suggestion  ”… the part that’s still missing from this promise to be good now that they’ve been caught, is a reasonable process for establishing the town’s actual fire protection needs”, which I read to be questioning of the need to replace the CF-18s in the first place, not the actual choice of a replacement.

          • I didn’t read that as questioning the need to replace the CF-18′s, but rather calling for establishment of a robust and transparent process to define the SOR to replace the capability currently carried out by the CF-18′s, in order to accomplish Canada’s Foreign Policy and Defence Policy objectives.

          • Well, what the AG is on about is flawed costing info. about the F35s, not about whether the CF-18s needed replacing, nor about whether some other aircraft would be a better replacement.

            What about the process – started in 1996 under a former government and culminating in the MOU to acquire the F35s, wasn’t robust and transparent enough for you?

          • GreatWall:

            What about the process  . . .wasn’t robust and transparent enough for you?

            Like I said:  “a robust and transparent process to define the SOR”

            RCAF decided without any real transparency or traceability to our policy objectives that they needed the F-35.  Plus, we know that there are mandatory requirements that are not met by the F-35 (though I will grant that those can be addressed while proceeding at risk, provided there’s a credible plan to do so), but even more so, we know from comparing specs to other aircraft on the market that the F-35 is not well suited to most of our needs, as pointed out in this Globe & Mail article last weekend:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/weighing-the-factors-in-buying-a-warplane/article2388012/ 

            It appears they decided kind of like me deciding I need a Ferrari for my transport needs (and then finding out it can’t fit my hockey bag & sticks).

          • “RCAF decided without any real transparency or traceability to our policy objectives that they needed the F-35.”

            I think this is a gross overstatement – the F-35 was selected following a lengthy analysis commenced under the Liberal government that considered five different aircraft as replacements for the CF-18s:

            http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201204_02_e_36466.html#hd5f 

            “… the F-35 is not well suited to most of our needs, as pointed out in this Globe & Mail article last weekend ”

            The G & M article didn’t say this at all – it essentially said the F-35 met some of our needs very well and other of our needs far less well.  This is not new – the F35 has never been portrayed as being a perfect fit for every need our air force is likely to encounter over its life span.  The question isn’t whether there’s something out there that might be better suited for a particular purpose – the answer is always going to be yes.  Rather, the question – answered 6 years ago – is whether the F35 is the best of the bunch.  At the time, the answer was yes.  Now, maybe it isn’t, which is why I started this whole thread by suggesting Harper might actually be happy the AG is now giving him cover to reopen the debate.

      • Sorry to be late getting back on this. Yes I meant we haven’t fully examined our future needs and how to meet them. We seem to have started from the point of view of involvement with this Joint whatever it’s called and worked backwards, as per the sequence issues pointed out by the Auditor General.

  3. I’m certain others will soon be festooning this post with more anti-Harper blatherings, but I think, rather than harm the Conservatives, the AG just did them a very big favour, by providing cover for what has already been in the works for awhile – a potential flip flop on the F35 acquisition.

    The key factor to bear in mind about this particular AG report is that he’s criticizing not the actual spending of billions of dollars, but the process whereby the government entered into a MOU that may or may not lead to the spending of billions of dollars.  The criticism loses its bite pretty quickly if the feds decide not to spend the money and reacting in the way they did and as quickly as they did allows them to make the point that they actually do listen to what the AG has to say.

    • I’m sure if you trace the timeline of the backtracking, you’ll find that the government didn’t start to question this decision until the draft Auditor General’s report came across their desks.  Why did they refuse to believe Kevin Page’s assessment, choosing to demonize him rather than considering his advice?

      • Your criticism seems to distill down to Harper is playing this right, but should have started playing it right sooner.  I  have no doubt had he done that – begun to walk back the F35 procurement when the PBO criticized it, rather than the AG – there’d be criticism that he wasn’t respecting the office of the AG enough to wait for his report.

        • Oh, come on!  Your excuse for the government verbally attacking the Parliamentary budget officer is they need to show respect to some other Parliamentary officer?  Yes, I know.  Page doesn’t have the same clout as he should, reporting to the Library instead and all that, but that is irrelevant to Canadians.  If there was one iota of respect shown to Page instead of the contempt actually displayed, maybe the AG would have been able to modify his report slightly such that it wasn’t quite so damning. 

        • Your criticism seems to distill down to Harper is playing this right, but should have started playing it right sooner.

          I think the criticism is more that Harper shouldn’t be “playing” at all.  

          I’m not so sure many people would be significantly happier if Harper et. al had just stopped lying to Canadians a few months sooner than they did.  It’s the lying to Canadians that’s the problem.  Whether you stop lying when you’re caught in March of 2011, or you stop lying when you’re caught AGAIN in April of 2012 is kinda irrelevant.

          • If by “lying” you mean referring to a MOU as a contract, my first year contracts prof. and I would beg to differ.  Notwithstanding this, if the anti-Harper side of this thinks outrage can be mustered by semantic arguments about whether someone who refers to a MOU as a “contract” is lying, by all means have at ‘er.

          •  In some or even many instances there is no difference.  But if the minister meant to warrant a binding agreement existed to buy an item for a fixed price and it later turned out no such binding agreement existed, the distinction would be material indeed.

            And your last sentence comes perilously close to gloating about how much your party can put over on the public.

          • GMFD said:

            ” In some or even many instances there is no difference.  But if the minister meant to warrant a binding agreement existed to buy an item for a fixed price and it later turned out no such binding agreement existed, the distinction would be material indeed. ”

            Except that if (as appears to be the case), going from a MOU to a binding agreement was entirely a unilateral decision on the part of the purchaser, the distinction is back to being immaterial, IMO.

            “And your last sentence comes perilously close to gloating about how much your party can put over on the public. ”

            No such gloating intended, since I don’t share the view that one is “put(ting something) over on the public” by mistakenly calling a MOU a contract, especially when the terms of the MOU are available for all to see:

            http://www.jsf.mil/downloads/down_documentation.htm 

          •  But whether there is an absolute requirement to buy the jets or not is exactly what is at issue. 

          • “But whether there is an absolute requirement to buy the jets or not is exactly what is at issue. ”

            No, what is at issue is the CPC dissemination of cost information to parliament.  As outraged as they all are about the AG’s criticisms, I don’t think either the Liberals or NDP are officially in favour of not replacing the CF-18s with something.  Don’t forget it was the Liberals who started us down the F-35 path in the first place.

          • That is AN issue but not THE issue with the contract.  The issue is that Mr. Mackay had held completely different positions about whether a binding agreement had been made to buy certain jets at a fixed price.  To say he did not claim that such an agreement existed and then claimed that such an agreement did not requires an absurd suspension of disbelief.

          • No, by “lying” I mean telling the Canadian people that the F-35s would cost X, when their own internal estimates were nearly 2X. I mean, insisting that the cost would be $16 billion, and that the PBO’s $29 billion was CRAZY, while all the time their own internal estimate(which they chose not to share with anyone) was closer to 25 billion.

        •  The last guy in the room to stop championing a foolish decietful process and lashing out at everyone who makes a lick of sense is NOT the guy you want making the decision in the first place.

        • No.  Attacking Kevin Page’s integrity over this was definitely playing it wrong. Lying about the costs when they knew the correct costs (or at least, then correct costs…they seem to rise every day).  Restarting the procurement process from stage 1 would be playing it right, once it became apparent that the procurement process was completely flawed and biased towards a single supplier.

    •  Thanks for the laugh GreatWallsofFire. Your statement “rather than harm the Conservatives, the AG just did them a very big
      favour, by providing cover for what has already been in the works for
      awhile – a potential flip flop on the F35 acquisition.”

      I love it when history starts to be revised to fit a better narrative.

  4. Shouldn’t they call the Secretariat the “CF-18 Replacement Secretariat”.  Calling it the “F-35 Secretariat” kinda begs the question of whether they will actually consider any other bids, or if we’ll be back to the same spot that created this boondoggle when the Secretariat completes it’s mandate.

    • They’re calling it the F-35 Secretariat because to call it what you’re suggesting would be to imply that they’re not going to buy the F-35 when everything in their release maintains the veneer that they will so that they don’t have to admit outright that they won’t at this time.

    • My first thought, too.

  5. I expect these boards to be flooded soon with the cheerleaders waving pom-poms in our faces and chanting brave fearless slogans. Any time now.

    • That would be about the strong, stable, and .. er .. competent government, right ?

      Mandate !!

  6. Why would we believe them now?  What credibility does this government have?

  7. And so the contract that Harper referred to in speeches prior to the election didn’t (and doesn’t) exist — what a shock — I can’t believe the Cons would ever mislead Canadians for partisan advantage!

  8. Please, God, help us. Going from oversight by Peter McKay to oversight by Rona Ambrose -  kind of like going from the frying pan into the fire.

  9. Harper is an asswipe

  10. the truth is that the Conservatives knew the cost of these jets before the election campaign and chose to lie to the electors about it.  They were found in contempt of parliament for refusing to provide parliament with adequate information about costs. 

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