Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Finally ... they drop the gloves

The Disaffected Lib wants the Governor General to intervene. He links to the latest offerings by Andrew Coyne and Brian Stewart who lay out exhibits which should horrify any Canadian.

This was, until last year's shipbuilding contract, the largest single purchase in the country's history. And yet it was carried out, as we now learn, without proper documentation, without accurate data, and without any of the normal procurement rules being followed. Defence officials simply decided in advance which aircraft they wanted, and that was that. Guidelines were evaded, Parliament was lied to, and in the end the people of Canada were set to purchase planes that may or may not be able to do the job set out for them, years after they were supposed to be delivered, at twice the promised cost.

But of course it's much worse than that. If department officials played two successive ministers of defence, Gordon O'Connor and Peter MacKay, for fools, the evidence shows they did not have to exert themselves much; if they did not offer evidence to back their claims, whether on performance, costs, or risks, it is because ministers did not think to ask for any. Nor was this negligence confined to the Department of National Defence.
And he concludes with ...
So this is also what comes of Parliament's prerogatives, its powers to hold ministers to account, being ignored or overridden. These aren't procedural niceties, of concern only to constitutional law professors — "process issues," as more than one member of the press gallery sneered at the time. They're the vital bulwarks of self-government, the only means we have of ensuring our wishes are obeyed and our money isn't wasted. Parliament having long ago lost control of the public purse, it was only a matter of time before the government did as well.
It's good of Coyne to finally recognize the clear and present danger to this country's parliamentary democracy. We have been filling these pages with warnings of such impending events for years.

Be careful, Andrew. Someone will accuse you of being "reactionary" or "hyperbolic". And I might point out that the people who accused the writers here of those things have not returned to call us what we actually were: right all along.

The who-knew-what about the real costs of the F-35 fighter jet Canada wants to purchase is worrisome enough. But at the heart of the fiasco is a far more serious concern about what public honesty means to this government.

It's a sad state that few Canadians appear surprised by the auditor general's findings that Parliament was kept in the dark over the real costs of this program and what looks to be a $10-billion overrun.
Many seem to assume that misleading and denying whenever it suits is a government's normal default position. After all, this government seems to have done it for years on Afghanistan and with its other problems in national defence.

In my own attempts to unravel the F-35's real costs I never once met a single soul outside government and knowledgeable about defence purchases who believed the prime minister's promise that the planes could be delivered for a bargain-rate $75 million each.

I never met anyone inside the Canadian military who thought so either.

I'm sure thousands in the aviation industry who follow these programs, especially in the U.S. and Europe, simply assumed Ottawa was dealing in fairy tales for public consumption, from which it refused to budge.

This is why we need to see if this current mess is part of a pattern of official "misstatements" on defence matters. If so, we've got a serious national problem.
Brian Stewart has been on the beat for longer than I can remember. His article should be read in its entirety because he goes on to describe the obsessive secrecy in which the Harperites surround themselves on all things. But the highlight was the continued attempt to suppress information on the Afghanistan adventure.

Unlike Coyne, Stewart never offered us Harper as a "good thing". He just kept chipping away at things that seemed to exist in the strange shadows of the Harper government.
This trend towards denial makes everything about the misstated F-35 billions a deeply serious affair.
We really need to know how deep the deception went in this case. And we ought to be much more curious about what is being carried out in our names under the cloak of secrecy.
Yes, we do.

And we need to know who knew what when back in May of 2011, when thousands of calls went out misdirecting voters to bogus polling stations. 


Alison said...

To be fair to Andrew Coyne, he endorsed Michael Ignatieff in the last election. He did consider the shortcoming of Stephen Harper and the contempt of Parliament charge. At the time, I thought it took some courage as he was the only conservative reporter who did so.

Dave said...

True enough. Although I'm not sure an Iggy endorsement is a whole lot better. :o)

Boris said...

I'm a little concerned. The half dozen blokes in the barbershop today were seriously worried about someone called Luongo who is apparently a waste of millions of dollars and, given the passion expressed, apparently vital to the national interest in ways that dwarf anything coming out of Ottawa.

Purple library guy said...

One thing that few seem to be considering is that the DnD figure of 25 billion that Harper and cabinet were lying about is itself almost certainly a serious lowball. After all, internal use only or not, it's still a number coming from an institution in serious groupthink mode committed to acquiring these things.
I doubt the parliamentary budget officer's approx. 30 billion told the whole story either. I don't think to this day we have seen a figure discussed in the news which seriously represents what these things would really end up costing. Given the continuing problems and cost overruns since, which many more critical commentators were predicting at the time since they have happened to every single major US military procurement of new hardware for a couple of decades at least, I'd say a low estimate would be 40 billion, and 60 would not surprise me.

Scotian said...

On the specifics of the costs of the fighters, I'm with PLG, I don't think even now we have seen anything resembling factual reality on that score for the reasons he lists.

As to the other aspects of this post, in particular the point Coyne is making about the importance of "process issues"/ technicalities actually mattering, this is something I have been saying to the point of making people sick since before the loss of PM Martin. I kept freaking out because I understood that it is those piddly little technicalities and process issues that truly define how we operate as a government and as a nation far more than merely what one's ideology or policy preferences are, and what made Harper so dangerous and where his true "hidden agenda" was lay in his contempt for such and his complete willingness to not just bend the rules/laws but ignore them altogether while creating a horrific parody funhouse mirror version of Canada.

I can live with those whose ideologies and policies I oppose holding power SO LONG AS there is the underlying respect for those basic process/technical issues, and this is always what made Harper and the parties he has led so fundamentally different and dangerous, and why I made opposing him the only top priority ANY Canadian should have had (and why Layton and his party earned my contempt for either not understanding this or worse thinking it was a fair trade if it got them closer to power, and it is the latter I believe was happening unfortunately) since before Martin lost power. I said way back then that leaving Martin and the Libs in place despite the scandals, despite their own abuse of power and corruption issues would be far less damaging to Canadian democracy than letting Harper anywhere near the PMO even as a minority PM would be, and I would argue the historical record proved me right 100 percent.

The problem now is too much of the damage has already been done, and even if we knock Harper out of office in the next election I am not sure how much of his damage on the process/technical side of government can be undone. Too many Canadians took the attitude things like this could never happen here, and that process issues don't really matter/affect them. Well I wonder how many of those same people are upset at the amount of their tax dollars being wasted in such manners as we see here, and those are the lesser to least costs to the process damage being done by Harper and company, not the greater let alone greatest, no not even close.