Sunday, April 8, 2012 | Categories: Episodes
On Cross Country Checkup: fighter jet controversy
The report by the Auditor-General reveals serious errors in the procurement process for Canada's hoped-for stealth fighter/bombers.
With the final price-tag now appearing much higher, the whole F-35 purchase is in doubt.
What's your reaction to the findings of the Auditor-General?
With host Rex Murphy.
The House of Commons has been in uproar all week with calls for the resignation of both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence. It's the fallout from a report released this past week by the Auditor General on the proposed purchase of a new generation of fighter jets for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Canada's Auditor General, Michael Ferguson looked into the various cost estimates floating around Ottawa, and he was quite blunt in his assessment that the Department of National Defence had not been completely forthcoming in its communication of the eventual total costs of Canada's planned purchase of 65 new jets. He also suggested that cabinet knew the total figure. The opposition accuses the government of actively and knowingly misleading both Parliament and the public by low-balling the costs ...because the full price would be politically unsellable.
The F-35 stealth fighter/bomber has been in the works since 1997 when 8 NATO countries including Canada pitched in together to develop a new plane that would carry them all into the future. The Joint Strike Fighter Program, as it was called, working with US manufacturer Lockheed Martin, would come up with a plane that was both cheaper and more sophisticated than if all the countries shopped around separately. It would have the added advantage of compatibility during allied combat missions.
Well the program is not unfolding competely as planned. Costs have been a constant concern, with some countries now looking to bail out on their commitments. Those same cost projections have become a political issue in Canada with the opposition saying the planes will be too expensive ...and too rich for Canada's needs. Critics said the cooperative process did not allow for competition to bring in lower cost options.
The government stance is that it is not a scandal because no money has been actually spent ...and the final costs are still just projections and therefore unknown. Furthermore the government agreed to change the procurement process in all the ways suggested by the Auditor General. The Minister of Defence Peter MacKay says the outrage is all over a $10-billion dollar gap and a misunderstanding between two different figures. One at $15-billion, the cost to acquire the planes ...and the other at $25-billion, which includes the $10-billion to cover operating costs, salaries and fuel for the 20 year life-span. He says it's the same $10-billion that the government is paying now for the existing fleet of CF-18s.
The cost of the planned purchase was an issue during the last election and the Conservatives used the lower figure as the extent of their projected commitment. The opposition said the figure was too low.
We want to hear what you think.
What is your reaction to the Auditor General's report? Do you support the idea that Canada needs to buy a new fleet of planes? Do you support the type chosen by the government? Do you think the government has been honest in communicating the details of the proposed purchase? What do you think of the opposition's call for the resignation of both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister? Does the fact that no money has been spent mitigate the seriousness of the allegations? So long as the government follows the recommendations of the Auditor General in proceeding with the purchase will that ensure that everything is resolved ...or should some people lose their jobs over this?
Our question today: "What's your reaction to the Auditor-General's findings on the proposed F-35 fighter jet purchase?"
I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
The flawed process for acquiring the F-35 joint strike fighters has been known for some time to those who have been attentive to alternative media.
Apart from all the economic shenanigans, let's consider the item itself. As I understand it, the Lockheed Martin F-35 is a "first strike" stealth bomber, not an aircraft designed for defence. Similarly, although economically popular, the $25 billion contract awarded to Halifax Shipyards is designated for "warships".
Isn't it time we renamed the Department of National Defence the "Department of War"? At least that would be truth in advertising.
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Many Canadians are wondering what our Prime Minister will do once he recovers from the shock of having F-35 egg-fool-dung smeared across his face. Rumour has it Harper is spending his Easter holidays drafting a memo for his hand-picked cabinet of yes-men. Apparently the memo will state in no uncertain terms what will happen to the next minister who gets caught screwing up and embarrassing Harper. That unfortunate minister will be spending the rest of his political career in northern Alberta, heading up a one-man environmental office mandated to monitor the tar sands development.
Vernon, British Columbia
Canadians cannot afford F-35s. This country cannot afford the insatiable appetites of the Department of Defence, and other government offices, to spend money. This country needs to cut such profiteering to the few, and seriously address where we can afford to spend money to benefit all. Perhaps on our future, like education. Perhaps more to our highly skilled, overworked and underpaid workforce. Perhaps more to the CBC, and perhaps more to let those who have already paid their dues retire in dignity, with their vacancies providing jobs for the younger generation. Even a few less F-35s (let alone a fleet) would go a long way toward financing such programs and a long way to reducing our crippling debt.
Fall River, Nova Scotia
Why haven't we looked ten years ahead when UAV (unmanned aeial vehicle) fighter jets will provide many times more maneuverable and cheaper fighter jets, that don't require all the expensive life support and protection systems of manned fighter jets? Will we have them first, or will the Chinese have ten times as many fighter jets with superior capabilities for less cost?
Given the praise heaped on the recent purchase of billions (of dollars worth) of ships for the Navy and Coast Guard, why are these jets for the Air Force shrouded is so much smoke and mirrors? Too many people are trying very hard to not speak the whole truth on this issue. If it smells foul, flush it down the toilet.
Harper's majority government was elected under suspicious circumstances. That alone is enough to make me believe that he was capable of covering up the higher cost of the jets in order to get elected. If he really is an economist, he is either inept or he got caught in his deception of the Canadian public. Harper should resign.
Kitimat, British Columbia
During the last election campaign (not very long ago), we were promised open, honest and transparent government by Mr. Harper and his colleagues. Recent events have clearly shown his government to be closed, dishonest and murky.
We were led (or misled) to expect better, not worse. Instead we've got even less than same old same old.
Coquitlam, British Columbia
I am mildly surprised at the levels of incompetence shown this week by the Conservative government, but not at all by the awkward silence of Peter Mackay nor the arrogance of the Prime Minister. Does anyone still think that Stephen Harper has any respect for democracy, or for the truth or for any point of view different from his own? Canada has sold its soul to Stephen Harper and he is remaking the Canadian soul in his own image. Yes, I think both he and the Minister of Defence should resign. But I don't think they will.
Vancouver, British Columbia
As a pilot who flew for eight years in the high arctic islands in the 1970s, the question I have about this purchase is this: What the heck are these people thinking? Why on Earth would we buy a single-engine aircraft for use in a country with such vast, unpopulated remote territory? Our search and rescue capabilities are one of the worst in the world, so how is the poor suck driving this weapon platform around northern Canada going to have any hope of surviving a punch out when it happens? Please note I said when, not if. To purchase a single-engine aircraft is beyond ridiculous. There are several multi-engine options availabe that would, in my mind, be far better choices. And don't get me started on the search and rescue aircraft replacement program.
Vancouver, British Columbia
F-35's are a brand-new toy that the government wants to give to a small group of our fighting force. What I find disturbing is that when I questioned the purchase of this jet over purchasing safer ground vehicles for our troops in Afghanistan, I was told only that "We need these jets." and this was from Conservative politician, Conservative election staffers and Conservative voters and supporters. I personally believe that the Conservatives actually have no clue on what this country needs for its military.
Does the military realise that in ten years time aircraft of this nature may be obsolete? Technology doubles its capability in several years. Their job may easily be overtaken by the drones that have been used so effectively in Afghanistan and the Quad Copters that were used in Libya. We do not need to, and cannot afford to, follow the U.S. lead. We need to look at what will serve Canada's needs. This can be done in a much more flexible and cost effective way.
If F-18s are truly beyond or approaching their useful life, would we not get the latest version of the F-22 Raptor?
Grande Prairie, Alberta
I'm not sure whether or not the F-35 is the next-generation plane for Canada, but if the folks shopping for them are the same ones who bought those possibly submersible, apparently permanently drydocked white elephants from Britain, then I say take away the credit card. I wouldn't trust them to buy a bicycle.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Why oh why did we ever cancel the Arrow? We had a great plane and could have kept our own skilled workers employed. At least it would have been our problem and not one imported from south of the border.
A country like Canada, with a military budget as small as ours, should not be spending billions on something that is not already in production. We should be looking at models that are already flying and judging what we need based on what is available. I think the AG has pretty much given us the details we need to be able to come to the conclusion that the Minister of Defense and his partner Julian Fantino should be stepping down. The failure of the government to properly answer the questions with reasonable responses is insulting to the Canadian people.
It is high time that we look for another plane, one that is built in the north for the north. There are very sophisticated planes flying in NATO that are built in Scandinavia that would suit Canada a lot better, especially patrolling Canada's arctic coastline and our portion of the Arctic Ocean.
Medicine Hat, Alberta
Listening to the various and illuminating comments about the details of this F-35 aircraft purchase, I am increasingly concerned that the government may not actually know what it is doing. It would seem that Canada has a very large turkey in the oven this Easter Sunday afternoon.
Donald Lauren Exter
Powell River, British Columbia
The first objective of any military purchase should be to defend national
sovereignty and not to fight wars in far off lands for all kinds of dubious
Will the purchase of the F-35 planes help Canada to defend its sovereignty
including its sovereignty over its northern resources? I think not.
Canada cannot even fight a minuscule nation like Israel. Israel can easily defeat Canada in a conventional war. Furthermore, since Israel has nuclear weapons and Canada does not, Israel can easily wipe out Canada. Given this fact, can Canada defend its sovereignty against much larger nations such as the USA, Russia, or China after purchasing the F-35 fighters? Definitely not.
Canada is a huge country with a lot of resources. If it is serious about
defending its sovereignty, it must soon acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to any target effectively. This is the only defence. No wonder that countries like Iran, who cannot fight a conventional war against the combined armies of Israel and the USA, want to acquire nuclear weapons in order to defend themselves. This is a cheap and quick way to protect itself from overwhelming conventional military forces. It is a real deterrent.
Kabeer Ahmed Sayeed
I think you need some female voices in this discussion. I am surprised that the main topic of conversation so far today is "toys for boys." This issue is not about whether we need this plane or whether it is the best plane for the Canadian forces, although Rex Murphy has done his best to introduce the real problem with this issue. It is about the fact that the government deliberately misrepresented the original estimates for the F-35 to Parliament and to the people of Canada. This used to be considered a serious moral lapse requiring the resignation of the guilty party or parties. In addition, the government provoked an election partly to avoid being held in contempt of Parliament for refusing to reveal the paperwork for their made up figures. The Harper Conservatives then campaigned on these figures, knowing full well that they were not accurate. To these misdemeanors I could also add the sneers and jeers they poured upon Kevin Page when he calculated a much more accurate estimate. If the PBO had access to accurate information on the estimates for this plane, then the government did too. But it seems that no one expects politicians to tell the truth and if today's discussion is anything to go by then the real issue does not matter to Canadians. I fear that we may have the government that we deserve.
St. Lambert, Quebec
Thank God you invited David Bercuson to contribute. After the uninterrupted flow of nonsense from callers from the start of the program (and still continuing) ranging from the assertion that the F-35 has not flown yet to suggesting that $20 billion be spent on transport aircraft, to recommending that Canada develop a home-grown CF-18 replacement, Dr. Bercuson injected a large dollop of sense into the debate.
Let's start the conversation at the beginning. Why do we need to purchase any jets at all? If the development of the F-35's started in the late 1990s and in the meantime we have not been threatened with invasion by either the Chinese or the Russians, then what's the panic? Let's not feed the military complex our tax dollars. Use the billions to pay down our debt, fund health care (including drugs, dental and vision), reduce tuition for students in college and universities, give tax breaks and credits to Canadian companies developing green energy alternatives, support our pensions... The list goes on and on.
Rex, thank you for hosting this important topic today. But please, let's spend some time getting to the real issue - the role of Parliament, including both the party in power and the Opposition, which are absolutely vital to our democracy. Would you please remind your listeners that all this goes back to a most startling (and a first for Canada) Contempt of Parliament issue just a little over one year ago. And what was the Opposition asking for? Breakdowns of the costs, including estimates of the costs, to buy a fleet of fighter jets.
V. B. Milligan
There are so many better ways to spend $20 billion. This is a moral question of whether to spend money on killing machines or invest in education, green energy, research and development, health care, etc. The Harper government has chosen to slash arts, humanities, scientific data, climate change research, the CBC, etc. What do you want your Canada to be? this should be an election issue. Personally, I would rather create than destroy.
So much of the discussion on this topic pertains to the quality of the F-35, the difficulty of developing a new military platform, the history of the program, the role of the Liberal Party, etc. Let's not lose track of the two key issues raised by the Auditor General, that there has not been a healthy procurement process (beginning with documented requirements and moving to competitive bidding), and that the true costs of the program have been hidden from Parliament. There is lots of room and motivation for spin on this scandal. Let's keep these key issues in mind, lest they be lost in the noise.
It's easy to find MacKay and Harper talking about contracts, and in fact on the day that the announcement was made (July 15, 2010) the Lockheed Martin representative, Tom Burbage, (F-35 Program Integration) noted that the contract was not between his company and Canada, but between the U.S. Government and the Government of Canada. With all these references to a contract, how can all these ministers and even the PM, now say there was never a contract. MacKay now says there was only an MOU, which everyone knows is nothing to do with a contract to purchase the jet?
The assertion that Canada has not spent anything on the F-35 to date is ridiculously false. Harper has pledged $475 million to the development costs, a small percentage of what's been required but still a lot of money (enough to keep the CBC at its current level of funding for the next four years).
I have been listening to your show. I did not hear the beginning, however I am disturbed that most of the attention has been to the aircraft. There is no doubt that there are a lot of questions to be debated to serve the public interest here, however the elephant in the room is the the fact that the government is at least misleading the house and therefor the people. the fact that this is not the issue at the forfront is the disturbing issue. I am now into my 60s and no longer assume that good government is somehow something that survives let alone can be reifined without vigilence and courage. The government is so far getting away with the denigration of a pilar of our democracy to our peril! If they are not called to account, if we do not defend the tradition by calling them to account it can only get worse.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Your comments were spot on, about the passing of ministerial responsibility, in my opinion replaced by ministerial plausible deniability. And one of your callers was right, describing the juvenile (bordering on obscene) response clearly visible on the face of the defense minister as he sat in the model of the jet fighter. It looked like that alone was the basis upon which he based his decision to commit so much taxpayers' money but none of his own.
Duncan, British Columbia
The Conservatives relationship with the truth on this and virtually all other issues is so distant and ephemeral as to be non-existent. To add insult to injury, their talk of accountability and transparency versus the behaviour of secrecy, obstruction and finger pointing is nothing short of deceitful.
You may have done us all a service had you also elected to have a guest who could speak to the issue of F-35 capabilities. I only know what I have read online, but Pierre M. Spey (a member of the F-16 and A-10 design aircraft teams) doubted the F-35's capabilities by saying that it is overweight, underpowered, has manoeuvrability problems, particularly when compared with the Russian SU-30 aircraft. In addition, the literature critical of the F-35 states that the latest radar can now detect stealth aircraft, and that the F-35 is susceptible to detection from the side and back. The literature also suggests that the F-35 is too fast for tactical close air support and has has "mortgaged its success on a hypothetical vision of ultra-long range, radar-based air-to-air combat that has fallen on its face many times in real air war." Lockheed-Martin has answers for all these criticisms, of course, but even test pilots indicated that the F-35 is a bit of a "dog," particularly in air-air combat. This all goes to point the error of a stubborn government that seems to pride itself more on being disingenuous than on answering questions of elected representatives of the Canadian people with integrity.