In July 2010, I wrote a column for my local paper, Island Tides, on the decision to buy 65 F-35
fighter jets. Now that the Auditor
General has confirmed what everyone knew, that the planes were wildly over-budget
and that we were being misled (lied to?) at every turn, I decided to go back
and look at my column.
On the costs I wrote:
Like many military
contracts in the US,
the costs of the F-35 have spiralled and are way over budget. In March 2010, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates
told the Congress that it was “unacceptable” that the F-35 is 50%
over-budget. Costs of developing the new
fighter jets is approaching $300 billion. With bureaucratic baffle-gab that
takes your breath away, the Pentagon
critique of the fighter jet programme concluded: “affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar.”
On the question of whether the F35s met Canadian defence
Peter MacKay enthused
about the jets. Lockheed Martin’s F-35
jets are exciting new toys. They are so
exciting that our government did not
hold an open contracting process. We
only wanted these planes. They can take off and land on aircraft carriers.
They have stealth coating. They can
engage in air to air combat and rely on mid-air re-fueling. …. We
don’t have aircraft carriers. We have no
plausible security scenario in which air to air combat is anticipated. (The Battle of
was a long time ago.) And stealth coating?
Are we planning a surprise invasion?
True, our aging CF-18s
need to be replaced. Our large geography
has always led to a priority choice for two-engine planes, so if a plane is in
a remote spot and loses an engine, the pilot can get to a safe place to
land. The F-35s are single engine
planes. Asked what will happen if the
engine fails, Peter MacKay replied “it won’t.” We need planes for search and
rescue. The F-35 is not appropriate for
search and rescue.
So, it seems Canada is spending money we don’t
have for planes we don’t need. And it seems we are doing this to hold our place
in some macho military solidarity with the Pentagon. The opportunity costs of
$16 billion for fighter jets is enormous
-- in lost opportunities to reduce poverty, create jobs, protect health
care and fight climate change. None of
this has been debated or discussed in the House. And it was not in the 2010 budget. I will work with other parties to reverse
this sale and direct priorities to those Canadians value.
So, I was still
using the Harper $16 billion estimate.
But when the Parliamentary Budget Officer explained that those costs
were off by about $10 billion or so, I believed him. Stephen Harper attacked him.
The point is that
not even willful blindness of the most acute variety can be pleaded by the
Prime Minister in his attack on the Parliamentary Budget Officer. If I knew the planes were being chosen
without criteria or a proper open bidding process, that the whole project was a
boondoggle and that Canada was going to be spending $25 billion on planes we
did not need, so too did everyone else.
General’s report should be required reading for every voter who thought Stephen
Harper had the qualities of a wise manager of the public purse.