The latest bomb has dropped from the F-35 scandal in Ottawa. After appearing before the public accounts committee earlier today, Auditor General Michael Ferguson told the media that the Harper government “would have had” information about the real cost of the fighter jets in March 2011 when parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page released his report about the increased cost of the F-35s.
In other words, today the Auditor General confirmed what any discerning observer had already concluded: Harper and his cabinet ministers must have known that the real cost of the F-35s was at least $10 billion more than they were telling the public.
To understand the full significance of this, it’s important to remember the timeline of events. In July 2010, Harper and Peter MacKay announced -- without having held any open bidding process -- that the purchase of 65 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin would cost $16 billion including maintenance. By October 2010, then Auditor General Sheila Fraser was already predicting the true cost would be much higher. Then on March 20, 2011, Kevin Page released his report estimating the price at $28.5 billion. The Harper government publicly attacked Page’s numbers, and insisted on their original estimated cost. And all this helped trigger the last federal election.
On March 25, 2011 Harper’s government was brought down after a non-confidence vote and a finding that the Conservatives were in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose full information about the cost of the fighter jets, as well as the cost of their crime legislation.
Throughout the election campaign, Harper and his campaign insisted on figures between $14-16 billion. But, at the highest levels, they must have known it was false.
So they lied. Harper knew, and Harper lied. Harper lied before, during and after the election campaign that saw him win a majority government.
Day after day on the campaign trail to his long sought majority government -- not to mention during TV appearances and in the leadership debates -- Harper repeatedly lied about the cost of the F-35s. And the fighter jets were no marginal issue; they were arguably the central plank in the election campaign.
For a reminder of how this looked and sounded during Canada’s 41st federal election, take a look at this video clip from a Harper campaign event in early April 2011. Displaying his trademark angry-guy-keeping-himself-carefully-under-control tone and cadence, Harper insists “the contract we signed shelters us from any increase in those kinds of costs” and that he was “very confident of their cost estimates”.
This week Harper and his ministers and their spokespeople have pulled a 180, insisting that ‘no contract was signed’ for the F-35s and that they can simply ‘reset’ the bidding process.
I say if there was no contract, and if the cost Harper touted was a lie, then there is no mandate either. Harper’s government is illegitimate. We need to ‘reset’ the government, if you will. I think more Canadians than ever see this or at least sense this, but nevertheless I have no illusions that Harper will be toppled in the House of Commons anytime soon.
For this to happen, we will need a mass movement outside Parliament, in order to change the balance of political forces in the country, and to fully denounce not just the form but the content of the corruption of Harper’s government. And the real content behind this fighter jets scandal is the militarism and corporate power the government serves.
There would be no F-35 scandal if the Harper government was not determined to pursue an aggressive foreign policy, as part of NATO and its increasingly wide-ranging interventions. (For a reminder, check out Peter MacKay saying as much just last week.)
To amend a US political cliché: ‘It’s the military-industrial complex, stupid’.
The corporate connections to this government’s militarism aren’t hard to find. In fact, you can find them in the person of Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s current chief of staff. It’s unfathomable why the information first reported two years ago about Wright’s connections to Lockheed Martin has not been raised by the Ottawa press corps this week:
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new chief of staff Nigel Wright is already the focus of troublesome questions because of his links with the largest military procurement in the history of Canada even though he doesn’t start until January.
“As the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Mr. Wright has enormous influence over aerospace, defence and energy policy -- areas where he also has an ongoing personal business interest,” Liberal treasury board critic Siobhan Coady (St. John's South-Mount Pearl) said. “This could pose a conflict of interest and must be fully investigated,” she stated Monday.
Wright is a director of Hawker Beechcraft Inc., a partner with Lockheed Martin, which is selling F-35 stealth fighter to Canada for $16 billion in an untendered contract. Onex purchased Hawker Beechcraft for $3.8 billion.”
I know we’re talking about stealth bombers here, but I have no clue how Wright and his links to Lockheed Martin have managed to stay under the radar of this scandal.
All this comes on top of the “robocalls” scandal -- with Elections Canada investigating incidents in 200 ridings -- that points to widespread electoral fraud by people connected to the Conservative Party.
The force needed to defeat this government, and roll back their agenda, will need to be built right across the country -- in the streets, in meetings halls and in our public squares.
We have never needed a Canadian Spring more than we need it right now.