Senior officials at the Department of National Defence made sure references to the $600-million-plus cost of renovating a former Nortel research complex were removed from public statements and documents, apparently fearful of what the public and MPs might think if they knew the cost of adapting the former high-tech company’s Ottawa campus to the department’s needs. It’s not the first time Defence has seemed shockingly willing to keep true costs secret. Recently, Parliament was not informed in advance about the department’s plans to spend $477 million on a U.S. military satellite. And last fall the federal auditor general’s office slammed the department for understating the complexities of buying new helicopters, in order to obscure the likelihood of major cost overruns to outfit the Cyclone and Chinook choppers for the Canadian military. In the latest incident, according to an email obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, an assistant to Robert Fonberg, the department’s deputy minister, wrote that Fonberg was concerned about telling the public about the cost, asking: “Why are we using the $623m(illion) fit up cost? It is without context and will be a lightning rod!” That cost estimate was later removed from public documents about the purchase of the old Nortel real estate.
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