Cabinet approved $25 billion for F-35s

The federal cabinet approved the full, eye-popping $25 billion cost of the F-35 stealth fighter in two stages during 2008, auditor general Michael Ferguson told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.

OTTAWA — The federal cabinet approved the full, eye-popping $25 billion cost of the F-35 stealth fighter in two stages during 2008, auditor general Michael Ferguson told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.

Opposition parties said Ferguson’s finding is critical to deciding whether the Harper government was deceived by National Defence and Public Works officials over the full implications of the costly program or if it was a willing participant in what the auditor general said was an effort to hide the full expense from the public.

“The number of $25 billion was established by Defence that included both the purchase and the maintenance cost and the budgets were approved through (the) normal process,” Ferguson said in support of his explosive audit.

He said he couldn’t say “who saw what (and) when” among cabinet — or why in defending against criticism from the parliamentary budget officer in the spring of 2011, government ministers chose to use the lower $14.7 billion figure. Both Treasury Board and National Defence rules require all costs for the lifespan of a major purchase to be included in estimates.

Ferguson said significant costs were left out of the government’s public statements. Defence Minister Peter MacKay has acknowledged he was aware of the differing figures, but both he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have described using the full life-cycle cost as an accounting difference.

Conservative MPs dug in a new line of defence during Thursday’s House of Commons public accounts committee meeting, painting the numbers in the auditor general’s scathing report as estimates.

Alberta MP Laurie Hawn, a former air force officer, insisted the only solid figure was the $9 billion purchase price, which the government has promised would not be exceeded.

There’s been considerable debate over the purchase price of the aircraft as well as how much the radar-evading jets will cost to be maintained and operated in the future.

“The budgets aren’t approved today,” Hawn said. “Those are estimates going forward.”

It’s unreasonable to try and predict the cost of pilot salaries and fuel three decades into the future, Hawn said.

But Ferguson said the enormous future cost to the treasury was all the more reason to forecast accurately from the outset of the program.

“That is precisely why it’s important for the government to explain, if they’re going to start acquiring these jets, what the potential impact is going to be on budgets into the future. I don’t believe we were nitpicking in anyway. I think what we were saying was that there were some significant elements that were missing.”

New Democrats were not prepared to let the Defence Department off-the-hook entirely for the fudged numbers, but suggested there was a failure of political leadership.

“Minister MacKay has lost control of his department,” said southern Ontario New Democrat Malcolm Allen. “Not only minister MacKay, indeed the ministers of public works. They lost control of this entire file. They allowed a department to simply run amok.”

Ferguson said Public Works officials tried to exercise due diligence by asking for information about the new fighter program, but ultimately ended up rubber stamping the sole-source acquisition.

The Liberals took aim at the gap between assurances from ministers that they accept the auditor general’s report and the written refusal of both Defence and Public Works officials to assume any of the blame.

Ferguson said he’s received letters from the deputy ministers of both departments rejecting his findings and told the committee there’s been no communication from the government which suggested it feels differently.

Under questioning in the House of Commons, Harper said his government’s multi-pronged response, which includes taking the file away from defence officials and better reporting to Parliament, demonstrates it accepts Ferguson’s assessment.

“The government has clearly accepted the conclusions and the government has been quite detailed in the steps it will take to implement those conclusions,” said the prime minister.

But interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said accepting responsibly in writing would mean acknowledging that Parliament and the public were misled.

“The problem we have is that it doesn’t appear to be anything called ministerial accountability left in the Government of Canada,” said Rae.

Just Posted

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman holds up freedom of information requests that turned up no records. The Opposition requested back-to-school re-entry plan correspondence between Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and school boards, teachers and the media. Photo via Facebook live
NDP renews calls for Alberta gov’t to scrap K-6 draft curriculum

The NDP is once again calling on the Alberta Government to get… Continue reading

Earlier this week Alberta Health Services warned that Rocky Mountain House Health Centre emergency department would be temporarily without physician coverage from May 12, at 6 p.m., to May 13, at 7 a.m. (Photo contributed by the Town of Rocky Mountain House)
Doctors needed in Rocky Mountain House

Emergency department temporarily closed due to doctor shortage

The owner of Mae’s Kitchen in Mirror, says hamlet residents were ‘disheartened’ by a recent anti-restriction protest. The restaurant is following all the health restrictions in place. (Photo courtesy Mae’s Kitchen Facebook)
‘We don’t need that’: Mirror restaurant against recent anti-restriction protest

A week after a large anti-restriction protest at The Whistle Stop Cafe… Continue reading

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

An aerial view of housing in Calgary is shown on June 22, 2013. The Calgary Real Estate Board says the city's housing market is expected to stabilize, with some prices forecast to rise this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Alberta health agency obtains restraining order against Calgary mayoral candidate

CALGARY — Alberta Health Services says it has obtained a restraining order… Continue reading

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is seen during a news conference Thursday, June 18, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Guilbeault doubles down on Bill C-10 as opposition MPs demand Lametti testify

Guilbeault doubles down on Bill C-10 as opposition MPs demand Lametti testify

In this image from video, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2020. A U.S. lawmaker who has made a political crusade out of getting the border with Canada reopened is once again pressing his case with President Joe Biden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-House Television via AP
New CDC guidance makes it clear: time to reopen Canada-U.S. border, congressman says

New CDC guidance makes it clear: time to reopen Canada-U.S. border, congressman says

Cows and their calves graze in a pasture on a farm near Cremona, Alta., Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Thanks to a decade of rapid growth, there are now 279 facilities across Canada creating biogas from methane emitted by agricultural waste, landfills, green bin programs and municipal wastewater treatment facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Methane-capturing biogas projects in Canada reach 279, says association report

Methane-capturing biogas projects in Canada reach 279, says association report

A man watches the financial numbers at the TMX Group in Toronto's financial district on May 9, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
North American stock markets recover to end week slightly off record highs

North American stock markets recover to end week slightly off record highs

Canadian Pacific Railway locomotives are shuffled around a marshalling yard in Calgary, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Canadian Pacific Railway has a big decision to make after rival CN Rail amended its bid to win favour from Kansas City Southern. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CP Rail stands by bid for KCS as U.S. Justice Department opposes CN voting trust

CP Rail stands by bid for KCS as U.S. Justice Department opposes CN voting trust

Interfaith efforts strained by Israeli-Palestinian violence

Interfaith efforts strained by Israeli-Palestinian violence

People participate in an Eid al-Fitr ceremony in Overpeck County Park in Ridgefield Park, N.J., Thursday, May 13, 2021. Millions of Muslims across the world are marking a muted and gloomy holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan - a usually joyous three-day celebration that has been significantly toned down as coronavirus cases soar. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Ramadan drives donations, memberships to giving circles

Sahina Islam can still recall the day when she heard an elderly… Continue reading

Most Read