Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Oh wait - You Mean The F-35 Deal Was a Boondoggle All Along?




Not pictured - Giant Wall of Public Discontent to the left


It was quite some time in the making, but in the end totally worth it. Auditor General Michael Ferguson, Canada's stern-looking bearded taciturn guy in chief, delivered a devastating report yesterday on the Harper Government's management of the proposed F-35 jet deal and procurement process with Lockheed Martin.

It was a great moment of professional vindication for a guy who started the national profile part of his career with what was basically a Comedy Central roast in the parliamentary committee that vetted him. For weeks, before he got to audit a single thing, headlines revolved around his lack of French skills, and he suffered quite a bit of humiliation at the hands of NDP MPs on the committee. In the end it didn't matter. The Conservatives got their man, they had a majority, and they rammed his appointment through.

Then he spent a good nine or ten months amassing the biggest pile of crap he could ever possibly hope to drop on Steve Harper's face.

It's not a huge shock; this is, after all, a pattern we are well acquainted with as Canadians. Governments idiotically spend money, then within a year or so, Auditor Generals make what the public more or less knew what the government was up to official to the public, publicly excoriate the government with some memorable catchphrases for good measure, then go back to their Auditor Generalling. So I shouldn't have said earlier that the report was "devastating". The opposition, the media, the blogosphere, and pretty much anyone I talked to who knew a few particulars of the deal were saying for three years that there were serious flaws in the plan to buy 65 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin. Let's see - the jets were being built with unproven technology. They are unsuitable for Arctic use. Every other country that signed up to buy them is bailing. And the bill kept having extra zillions on it every time we looked at it, despite not a single jet being delivered. Not to mention stories of at least one Conservative lobbyist with ties to the company lurking around Parliament Hill. Well now, the jig is up, and here is the long and the short of the country's dilemma.

I guess Lockheed thought they were dealing with their Colorado Senator and Congressmen friends, or maybe the US Pentagon.

I felt so such strong misgivings about the biggest DND purchase in Canadian history that I distributed a newsletter in my riding to try and swing the vote before the May 2011 election. No such luck. But I am not smiling today because of the findings. I'm smiling because the moronic intransigence of the Conservative Party is getting a full, smelly airing out for what it is, finally. And because there still are a few checks and balances. Even ones appointed by the Conservatives.

The spin on the F-35 deal went far past the usual "It's the previous Liberal government's fault". The hard line taken was that it was costly (even though we were deliberately misled about the actual prohibitive cost) but necessary, and every Conservative response, including the PM's, to questions about it channelled huge amounts of five-weeks-after-9-11-George Bush. You're either with us on the F-35s or you're against the Canadian military. Harper even dealt a vintage tear jerker (whether that tear is from laughing or despair, hard to say) about the opposition playing politics with our brave men and women in uniform. I cannot think of another time he has put such a fat foot in his mouth.

And thank you, John Ibbitson at the Globe and Mail, for pointing that out. Mr. Ibbitson is generally not a rabid Conservative booster but does usually seem in awe at the Conservatives brash tenacity and stubbornly high popularity. And he acknowledges today that there is no path away from the F-35 fiasco that does not pass through the garden of public shame. After all, this episode makes the Harper government, normally (and wrongly) perceived as prudent economic managers look positively McGuinty-esque. "Sorry...where do we hand the billions over with no oversight? Quick, take our money as fast as you can. What's that? You need more?" A government that has urged Canadians for eight years to "play it safe" with its fiscal management is anything but, and hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of that popular myth.

Military purchases, because they're so expensive, have a way of getting noticed in our lightly populated country. And because they're usually bungled, they stick to leaders like skunk spray. Who doesn't associate the words "Sea Kings" with Jean Chr├ętien. Of course, that didn't prevent him from winning two more majorities. I am not here to analyse how this will affect future election results, though. Not today. I'm just happy to witness on full display a file that this government, which prides itself on such a high level of control, has totally lost control of.

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