Fighter jet plan earns scathing review

Canada’s auditor general has both National Defence and Public Works in his sights when it comes to the troubled F-35 stealth fighter program, say senior government sources.

OTTAWA — Canada’s auditor general has both National Defence and Public Works in his sights when it comes to the troubled F-35 stealth fighter program, say senior government sources.

A draft copy of the scathing review, circulating in Ottawa for weeks, suggests the air force didn’t do its pricing homework and government officials failed to follow procurement rules, say those who’ve read it.

It’s not clear whether the language will be toned down in the final report, Michael Ferguson’s first as auditor general, when it’s released April 3.

But federal officials familiar with the document note no final decision on purchasing the multi-role fighter has been made, and may take a year or two.

“It’s bad, (but) how can the auditor general be auditing a purchase that hasn’t taken place?” said one senior official, who asked not to be identified.

“The process to select, you can look at. They are pre-supposing a decision to acquire has taken place and it hasn’t.”

Julian Fantino, the minister in charge of defence procurement, gave a similar message to the House of Commons defence committee last week, and went further by saying that Ottawa reserves the right to bail on the multibillion-dollar program.

Senior officials say the auditor general’s harsh review is behind the Harper government’s change in posture over the last few weeks, where a hard-line message of commitment has softened into skepticism about the international program, which is billions of dollars off target and years behind schedule.

The Conservative government’s plan has been to buy 65 of the radar-evading jets.

The sources said the Harper government was warned last year not to be so absolute in its public support, especially in the aftermath of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page’s criticism of the air force’s cost estimates.

Politicians were apparently counselled to say they’ll “have a look at it” and a formal contract signing was still “three years away from now.”

But the advice was ignored, coming on the eve of an election where the Liberals attempted to make the F-35 purchase one of their campaign planks.

Instead, the Conservatives dug in and insisted their July 2010 commitment to the Lockheed-Martin fighter as a replacement for the CF-18s was final.

They held to that position even in the face of mounting worries about further delays and possible cost increases as the U.S. government pushed off some of its initial aircraft orders to future years.

Within the military, there is apparently growing frustration that it is going “wear” the criticisms of the auditor’s report.

One senior official noted the air force didn’t have to make a decision on replacing the 1980s vintage CF-18s for a few years and that the 2010 announcement was all about positioning business and the aerospace sector for F-35 contracts.

Liberal defence critic John McKay said he finds the potential criticism of Public Works to be most troubling.

“They are, in effect, the watchdog of the procurement process,” McKay said Tuesday. “Just because you haven’t signed a contract doesn’t mean that you’re not in a procurement process. So, I don’t know if that is a valid reason.”

The Conservatives, he said, have no one to blame but themselves for the political back-peddling.

“The poor taxpayer has every right to question what the heck is going on here,” he said. “The government’s (tone) and scorn for opposition from any source, whether it’s MPs or whether it’s from the (Parliamentary Budget Officer) or whatever, essentially precludes any kind of reasoned dialogue.”

Much of the debate around the program centred on the cost. The Conservatives have insisted the purchase and support costs will be between $14 billion and $16 billion. But the budget officer and critics have challenged that, delivering estimates of up to $29.5 billion.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Samson Cree Nation Pow Wow

The Samson Cree Nation hosted its annual Pow Wow, celebrating youth last weekend

Come play at Medicine River Wildlife Centre

Grand opening of new playground

Red Deer group looking to keep roads safe for cyclists

A Red Deer cycling group is concerned about road safety after multiple… Continue reading

Smoke and pets do not mix

Take care of your pets during the smoky weather

WATCH: Raising money for kids at the Gord Bamford Charity Golf Classic

Former NHL players, Olympians, pro rodeo circuit members and musicians teed off… Continue reading

Canadian soccer captain Christine Sinclair continues to lead fight against MS

TORONTO — Christine Sinclair continues to have an impact on and off… Continue reading

In Franklin’s anthems, women heard an empowering message

NEW YORK — Aretha Franklin never saw herself as a feminist heroine.… Continue reading

Happy birthday Boler: 100s of cute campers in Winnipeg for anniversary gathering

WINNIPEG — Angela Durand sits outside her camper which is decorated to… Continue reading

Merkel, Putin share a headache: Donald Trump

FRANKFURT — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will… Continue reading

Tim Hortons says its China expansion will include menu with congee, matcha

TORONTO — The president of Tim Hortons says a plan to conquer… Continue reading

Trump suggests Canada has been sidelined from latest NAFTA negotiations

OTTAWA — U.S. President Donald Trump is suggesting Canada has deliberately been… Continue reading

Photographer files complaint with police after alleged assault while on the job

TORONTO — A Toronto newspaper photographer said he opted to file a… Continue reading

Annual inflation rate jumped to 3.0% in July, highest reading since 2011

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says higher gasoline prices helped push the country’s… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month