John Geddes observes Peter MacKay’s no good, very bad day.
He might have made it easier to hear his answers without wincing had he just admitted to past mistakes. Failing that mature, obvious response, he might have clung to a fragment of dignity by resolving at least not to drag Canadian men and women in uniform into it.
But no. His couldn’t restrain himself. He couldn’t resist bringing up his concern for the troops when pointedly asked if he had any regrets about his past harsh words toward critics who raised what turned out to be entirely valid concerns about the F-35 program.
Andrew Coyne fumes at the latest attempt to present the numbers more charitably.
The new line, as expressed in government documents and repeated by the Defence minister, Peter MacKay, is that the planes will cost $45.8-billion “over 42 years.” Not 20 years, or 30 years, but 42 years. And then the spin: it was a billion dollars a year before, it’s pretty much a billion dollars a years now. So you see? Nothing’s changed. Except it isn’t 42 years. Not in any comparable sense. The 20 years used in previous cost estimates was the (supposed) service life of the planes: that is, how long they’re expected to be in use, after delivery. KMPG’s report, as I said, assumed a service life of 30 years. So to compare apples to apples, you would have to say the planes are now projected to cost $45-billion over 30 years.
How does the government get 42 years? By adding in 12 years for “development and acquisition,” from the decision to acquire the planes in 2010 to the delivery of the last plane in 2022. No previous estimate included development costs. And indeed they add next to nothing to the total: just $565-million. But by tacking on another 12 years, they allow the government to spread the cost over a much longer time frame, and make the annual cost of the planes seem much lower than it is.
Meanwhile, here are the exchanges between Thomas Mulcair, Bob Rae and the Prime Minister during QP this afternoon.
Thomas Mulcair: Fearmongering and buck-passing, that is what the F35 file has been about, a debacle since day one. When is the government going to come clean with Canadians and admit that it has misled Canadians from day one in the F-35 file?
Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. The Auditor General, as we know well, released a report in which he questioned some of the assumptions and some of the work that had been done by officials on the details. Therefore, the Minister of Public Works and the Minister of National Defence have worked with an expert panel to put together more information on this. Obviously that will be released shortly. But we remain fully committed to ensuring that our air force has the planes it needs to do its job when the CF-18 begins to be retired later in this decade.
Thomas Mulcair: Monsieur le Président, le rapport est catégorique: le prix des F-35 ne cesse de grimper. Le programme a été une débâcle depuis le début: aucun appel d’offres, aucune exigence précise et des ministres qui se passent le dossier comme une patate chaude l’un à l’autre pour essayer de cacher leur incompétence combinée à leur arrogance. Les conservateurs vont-ils répéter les mêmes erreurs dans leur fameux plan en sept points ou s’engagent-ils à lancer un réel appel d’offres pour que le public ait le meilleur avion pour son argent?
Stephen Harper: Monsieur le Président, encore une fois, nous n’avons pas dépensé des fonds publics pour l’acquisition de ces avions, mais nous sommes déterminés à avoir les avions nécessaires pour nos forces aériennes quand elles en auront besoin à la fin de cette décennie. En même temps, nous participons dans le développement de cet avion au profit du secteur aérospatial au Québec et dans le reste du Canada. Nous sommes déterminés à aider notre industrie.
Bob Rae: Mr. Speaker, it seems that the F-35 issue is a fiasco that has happened without anyone taking any responsibility for it in the government. The Prime Minister says that a few officials may not have provided enough information, but that is not in fact what either the Parliamentary Budget Officer or the Auditor General of Canada had to say. What they said was that information in the hands of the government was not brought forward to Parliament, was not brought forward to those making decisions and was not brought forward in a timely fashion in a way to end the incompetence, the contempt and, in fact, the corruption of a process that no one on that side wants to take responsibility for.
Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General said no such thing and if there is any corruption here this would be the first time corruption has occurred without any funds actually being spent. Not only have no funds been spent on the acquisition, but no money has been lost on the acquisition, unlike the $40 million we are still looking for—
Bob Rae: Mr. Speaker, let us look at the record and I would ask the Prime Minister to go back—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Speaker: Order, order. The hon. member for Toronto Centre has the floor.
Bob Rae: This stuff does not bother me, Mr. Speaker. Let us get on with the real issue. The Auditor General’s report showed two sets of information, two sets of books being presented to Parliament and being presented in an attack on the Parliamentary Budget Officer. That is what the Prime Minister is condoning. That is what the Prime Minister is saying is absolutely no problem. I guess what the Prime Minister of Canada is telling Canadians, it is okay to mislead Canadians, it is okay to tell them untruths during an election campaign, it is okay to give misleading information to Parliament. All of that is okay. It is okay for the Minister of National Defence to attack those people—
Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General said absolutely no such thing. This government has provided the information at its disposal to Parliament. The government has provided the information at its disposal to the people of Canada. The government remains committed to a thorough assessment of the numbers that have been presented by the Department of National Defence and the government remains committed to the Canadian aerospace industry and to providing Canadian military with the planes they need.
Bob Rae: Monsieur le Président, le premier ministre vient de répéter exactement les mêmes erreurs qu’avant. Je dis au premier ministre qu’il doit lire encore une fois le rapport du vérificateur général. Ce dernier a dit clairement que l’information qui était dans les mains du gouvernement n’était pas offerte au Parlement du Canada. C’est exactement ce qu’a dit le vérificateur général. Est-ce ça les choses que le premier ministre continuera de tolérer, soit le fait que le Parlement n’a pas reçu l’information nécessaire? C’est exactement ce qu’a fait ce gouvernement
Stephen Harper: Monsieur le Président, au contraire, le vérificateur général n’a pas dit ça. Ce gouvernement a donné les informations disponibles à la population canadienne et au Parlement. Le vérificateur général a mis en doute la diligence derrière ces informations, et c’est la raison pour laquelle nous avons nommé un panel d’experts pour réviser ces chiffres. Ce panel va présenter ses résultats dans un proche avenir.