The Scene. The leader of the opposition had asked again for the Prime Minister to account for the government’s fraught relationship with the F-35 and the Prime Minister had again reassured the leader of the opposition of the government’s intent to follow a “seven-point” plan. And Mr. Mulcair was apparently ready for this.
“Mr. Speaker, instead of following their seven-point program, they should inspire themselves with 12-point programs,” the NDP leader offered, “and start by admitting they have a problem.”
This drew some desk-thumping from the New Democrats.
“There has been fear mongering about the F35s, saying that there would be great losses for Canadian companies and yet this is the only major military procurement in recent history where there are zero guaranteed industrial regional benefits,” Mr. Mulcair continued. “Why is the government insisting on proceeding with a company that has not even signed a contract to guarantee industrial regional benefits for Canada? What has been given so far is less than 1%.”
The Prime Minister stood here with a white piece of paper, on which was apparently written some prepared evidence. “Mr. Speaker, the government has taken into account the findings of the Auditor General and that is why we are proceeding with a detailed seven-step action plan,” he reassured. “In terms of there being no industrial benefits, as I have said before, there are hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts that have been let out to Canadian companies in the development of the F-35 aircraft. In fact, in the greater Montreal area, there is Héroux-Devtek, Pratt and Whitney, and Alcoa Howmet, all doing work on this very plane. So I suggest the member during the Christmas break go and visit some of those workers in his area.”
Mr. Harper himself is familiar with the Héroux-Devtek plant outside Montreal. He was there less than two years ago. Indeed, it was there that he posed for pictures and publicly fretted about the fact that some were willing to second-guess the F-35 procurement.
“I do find it disappointing, I find it sad, that some in Parliament are backtracking on the F-35 and some are talking openly about cancelling the contract, should they get the chance,” he said.
The F-35 was then “the right aircraft for our men and women in uniform.”
Now Bob Rae stepped forward, attempting to sound humble. “Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could ask the Prime Minister,” he begged, “given the now inflated price which is being discussed by KPMG and others with respect to the F-35, vastly greater than any price ever admitted to by any member of the front bench of the Conservative Party, I wonder if the Prime Minister could explain to Canadians why he is not going to competitive bid for a replacement for the CF-18s.”
Alas, the Prime Minister was not willing to accept even the premise of the question. “Mr. Speaker, first of all I would not begin by accepting the preamble of that question,” Mr. Harper clarified. “There are a range of issues that have been raised by the Auditor General and others. I believe that the seven-step process that has been outlined by the government and by the Minister of Public Works addresses these very issues. What we want to do obviously is ensure for the best price we get the plane that will fulfill the needs of the Canadian air force, of the Canadian military when the CF-18 fleet begins to reach the end of its lifespan at the end of this decade.”
Mr. Rae was now a bit perturbed. And where once his hands were folded neatly at his stomach, now he wagged his right index finger furiously
“Mr. Speaker, I have heard the government talk about $9 million,” he said, a voice around him suggesting “billion” was the proper figure. “I have heard the government even admit to $16 billion. I have heard those two figures admitted to. I have never heard them admit to $20 billion, $26 billion, $30 billion, $40 billion or $46 billion,” Mr. Rae cried, his voice rising as he inched forward in his spot. “Conservatives concealed the real costs from Canadians from the beginning,” he concluded. “Why no competitive bid?”
The Prime Minister scoffed. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, with a hint of a guffaw, “it is always possible to say that something will cost more if one keeps lengthening the time span in which one is doing the analysis.”
Indeed. Or, rather, precisely.
“We have a number of observations regarding the life-cycle costing for the F-35,” the auditor general’s office wrote in April. “First, costs have not been fully presented in relation to the life of the aircraft. The estimated life expectancy of the F-35 is about 8,000 flying hours, or about 36 years based on predicted usage. National Defence plans to operate the fleet for at least that long. It is able to estimate costs over 36 years. We recognize that long-term estimates are highly sensitive to assumptions about future costs as well as to currency exchange rates. However, in presenting costs to government decision makers and to Parliament, National Defence estimated life-cycle costs over 20 years. This practice understates operating, personnel, and sustainment costs, as well as some capital costs, because the time period is shorter than the aircraft’s estimated life expectancy.”